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Invincible DVD Review

Invincible (2006) movie poster Invincible

Theatrical Release: August 25, 2006 / Running Time: 104 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Ericson Core / Writer: Brad Gann

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Vince Papale), Greg Kinnear (Dick Vermeil), Elizabeth Banks (Janet Cantrell), Michael Rispoli (Max Cantrell), Kevin Conway (Frank Papale), Kirk Acevedo (Tommy), Dov Davidoff (Johnny), Michael Kelly (Pete), Nicoye Banks (TJ Banks), Stink Fisher (Denny Franks), Michael Mulheren (AC Craney), Michael Nouri (Mr. Tose), Jack Kehler (Wade Chambers), Paige Turco (Carol Vermeil)

Songs: Jim Croce - "I've Got a Name", Bachman-Turner Overdrive - "Let it Ride", Carole King - "It's Too Late", Ace - "How Long", "Eagles Victory Song", Canned Heat - "Let's Work Together", Ryan Franks, Scott Nickoley and Jamie Dunlap - "Diamond Side Down", Rick Riso - "Where Did the Time Go", Ellis Hall - "What Is Real", The Steepwater Band - "Autumn", Rod Stewart - "Mandolin Wind", The Company - "Give Us the Funk", Rare Earth - "I Just Want to Celebrate", Jackson Browne - "These Days", The James Gang - "Funk No. 49", Steely Dan - "Do It Again", Dobie Gray - "Drift Away", Johnny Mercer - "One For My Baby", Grand Funk Railroad - "Feelin' Alright", Edgar Winter - "Free Ride", Fairechild - "My Rock and Roll", Dylan Berry and Noah Lifschey - "Cadillack Grill", BT Express - "Do It Til You're Satisfied", Johnny Coppola - "I've Been in Love", Elvin Bishop - "Fooled Around and Fell in Love", Ellison Chase - "Everybody", Lee Michaels - "Do You Know What I Mean", Ted Nugent - "Stranglehold"

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Since the successful 2000 release of Remember the Titans, Walt Disney Pictures has been keeping theaters supplied with a steady flow of inspirational true sports dramas. The latest entry to the genre -- Invincible -- became the studio's third in less than a year when it reached the big screen this past August.

If the company was beginning to doubt its reliance on films based on real athletic triumphs, perhaps Invincible restored faith in the format. That is conceivable since critically and financially, the movie fared better than Disney's two previous releases (The Greatest Game Ever Played and Glory Road). Invincible also handily surpassed recent fictional tales from Disney's Touchstone branch in which sports loomed large (Goal! The Dream Begins, Annapolis)
and, perhaps most significantly, outdid Sony's subsequently and more widely-issued Gridiron Gang, a drama which likewise revolved on the game of football. That said, Invincible's performance was potent but not enough to make it a breakout in a class which regularly yields warm reviews, mid-range box office returns, and healthy home video sales.

Invincible tells the story of Vince Papale, who in 1976, at the age of 30, became the oldest rookie in National Football League (NFL) history, a record which still stands today. Papale (portrayed by Mark Wahlberg) was a member of South Philadelphia's working class, earning money as a bartender and substitute teacher. In the movie's early scenes, Papale loses his teaching job and then his wife. From these sequences (which depict Papale alone in tiny, smashed-up living quarters), to say the film's protagonist is experiencing a rough patch would seem a major understatement. Yet, challenges like the ones he faces feel almost commonplace among the guys he sees nightly at Maxie's, the bar that is his workplace and their hangout.

Mark Wahlberg is "The 30-Year-Old Bartender." Open tryouts bring out a number of hopefuls, many of whom are misfits and one of whom is the determined Vince Papale (Wahlberg, center).

Though times may be rough, the guys find solace in playing "rough touch" football games that bring out intensity in all. While their interest in the sport naturally carries over to spectatorship, the thrills they experience from muddy off-field matches are not rivaled by watching the hometown pro team, the Philadelphia Eagles, who have not boasted a winning record in close to a decade.

The stars begin to align satisfyingly when the Eagles bring in Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), formerly of UCLA, to be the team's head coach. Looking to shake things up, Vermeil holds an open tryout that any man can attend. For most, it's merely an opportunity to pretend to be a footballer for a day. Papale, however, catches Vermeil's attention and becomes the only walk-on invited to training camp. Papale's improbable opportunity gets picked up by the local media and becomes a human interest story that plants some hope in Philly's otherwise discontented citizens.

While Papale's place on the Eagles seems questioned at every roster trim, I've already told you three paragraphs ago that he makes the team. That should be apparent from the fact that there is a movie at all, especially if you've seen either the movie poster or the replicative DVD cover art that boast "Inspired by the True Story" and depict a fully-uniformed Wahlberg. But then, you don't watch sports dramas for the surprises. It's the rare one that manages to pull out unexpected plot turns. Certain fact-based tales have their way with details for the sake of drama, yet you still know the outcomes going in. That doesn't mean there won't be a climactic final competition which everyone treats as a surprise, complete with heroic celebration.

Greg Kinnear, as the Eagles' rookie coach Dick Vermeil, points to the star of "Invincible." Here he is, Mark Wahlberg (formerly known as Marky Mark, of Funky Bunch fame) plays Vince Papale, suited up in Eagles garb.

Where Invincible succeeds is that it doesn't do the normal routine. There are no composite character villains, there's no big championship game at the end. Little effort is made to define supporting characters, so we're spared the snappy one-liners and mini-dramas.
The Eagles operate purely as a group, with the exception of one teammate in a single scene, the others players are essentially set dressing, not even emerging in a genuine group dynamic. Elements like the majority of the team can be reduced to a backdrop because this is clearly one man's personal story.

Outside of Papale, Vermeil, and the obligatory romantic interest (New York Giants-supporting fellow bartender Janet, played by Elizabeth Banks), the most important character is that of the football-loving Philadelphia working class, whose employment and self-esteem woes truly seem redeemable by finding something to invest belief in. There's a camaraderie among the men that would feel at home in a PG-13-rated Jerry Bruckheimer flick; that's a trait more than a complaint. The love story between Vince and Janet is fairly typical, but it never becomes the center of attention and thus, it doesn't wear out its welcome and the tidy resolution doesn't feel like too much of a cop-out.

Though professional football has long been a multi-million dollar industry marked by glitz and gambling, Invincible manages to zero in on an intimate character drama without feeling hokey or artificial. Near-inevitably, the movie condenses time, eliminates facts to strengthen the impact of its focal achievement, and even romances certain aspects. But its heart is in the right place and its decision to place its trust on a compelling story -- rather than gimmick, style, or formula -- pays off well. Invincible doesn't over-extend its reach; you're able to garner the relevant emotions and the public's reactions to Papale's unlikely journey without them being spelled out for you. Such a quality might not have been necessary twenty to thirty years ago, but dozens of similarly-structured underdog tales later, and it's almost essential today.

Muddy rough touch football games in the rain? Check. Former allies of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Also check. Paige Turco (April O'Neil in the TMNT movie sequels) plays Dick Vermeil's supportive wife Carol.

Two elements which contribute considerably to Invincible's overall effect in a way that's neither positive nor negative are Ericson Core and a near-constant period soundtrack of '70s radio hits. Making his directorial debut here, Core has over ten years of experience as a cinematographer. He gets director of photography credit too, which ensures some blatant visual stylizing, like the yellowish tint to Papale's pre-Eagles life and consciously framed shots to cover his rise. On paper, the rock soundtrack and stylized hues may sound like a repeat the Bruckheimer-produced Titans. They're not and while they're also not decisions I can categorize as beneficial or detrimental, they do give the movie some flair by which to remember it.

In the end, though I can't say I loved Invincible, I did like it more than I expected. I appreciate the movie's restraint, which is appropriate because even set in the football league with the highest stakes, the triumphs here are smaller and yet more evocative.

Buy Invincible (Widescreen) from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish;
Closed Captioned
Release Date: December 19, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Available exclusively in its "2.35:1" widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, Invincible has, of course, been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. As you'd expect from a Disney movie made in 2006, picture quality is quite good. Some may find the yellowish tint to many of the visuals (that would seem to pay homage to the '70s setting by emulating the decade's color palette) off-putting, but obviously this was a deliberate choice. Less intentional and perhaps the only thing that mars the largely pleasing transfer is surprisingly prevalent moiré effect that shows up substantially in few shots.

Sound comes only in Dolby Digital 5.1. It's consistent and serviceable, if not the house-rocker you might hope for. The mix of subdued score by Mark Isham, popular rock tunes, and thought-derived football sounds accurately reflects just where this film's head is at.

In "Becoming Invincible", the real Vince Papale is seen trying out for the Eagles in the mid-1970s. The real Papale today discusses having his story made into a movie in the disc's featurette. If you're a Disney sports drama, chances are your DVD's Main Menu will look something like this, a stylized montage of game clips and off-field antics.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The lone video-based supplement, "Becoming Invincible: The Story of Vince Papale" (25:38)
covers the real life inspiration and then moves to filming it. This well-produced featurette feels similar to a sports documentary, bolstered by archival video footage of the real Papale in action and the appearances of Dick Vermeil and numerous former Eagles players. The moviemaking segments illustrate how Invincible was filmed with an eye for authenticity (and the real Papale excitedly on set) and allow cast and crew to comment on the production and the subject matter.

Despite the menu's singular number, there are two audio commentaries to be found. The first teams up the real Vince Papale with producer Mark Ciardi and writer Brad Gann. It's a fairly standard and unspectacular track, in which there's plenty of acknowledging what really happened, narrating what's going on, admiring certain facets of the movie's filmmaking, and dead air of nothingness. As always, it's neat to be able to hear from the real person being portrayed and Papale chokes up a few times in watching his story told. Alas, there just aren't enough interesting remarks dispatched in the 100 minutes you'll have to invest in this.

The second commentary brings in director Ericson Core and editor Jerry Greenberg and it's certainly more informative in terms of filmmaking. They (usually Core) discuss the dramatic intentions to certain elements they dictated, whether it be in music selection, the pacing of a montage, a filming location, or actors' performances. Their comments are screen-specific and fairly easy to listen to, but really only rewarding for those who are devotees both of the movie and the commentary format.

In what seems requisite for sports dramas, the Main Menu shuffles through a tinted montage of images, accompanied by inspirational instrumentation from the film.

Sneak peeks at the start of disc preview The Invisible, The Guardian, The Heart of the Game, "Scrubs": The Complete Fifth Season, and upcoming Disney Blu-ray titles. The Sneak Peeks menu also holds promos for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - Four-Disc Extended Edition, and the long-delayed Roving Mars.

Run, Papale, run! The inevitable happy ending: Touchdown, the tape!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Invincible is essentially the same story that has been told time and time again in underdog rising sports films. To that end, it's familiar, predictable, and not hard to dislike if you can summon opposition to being inspired. Gladly, though, this drama avoids many of the hallmarks of the genre and eschews manipulation. The achievements depicted are smaller, and thanks to the wisely understated and restrained treatment, they're fairly easy to cheer on. As such, the warm response from moviegoers and critics alike is deserved. The movie may not rewrite the rules of sports cinema or even stray too much from formulas repeatedly employed in recent years for other live action Disney fare. But Invincible still qualifies as a benign victory.

The DVD meets one's expectations for a film of this kind. The usual absence of the trailer and less common void of deleted scenes are both worth mentioning. However, supplements are not lacking altogether and a fine featurette makes up for two audio commentaries that are less than gripping. Of course, the film itself is faithfully presented with reasonably high quality. Taken altogether, Invincible is apt for a rental and, if it proves to suit your fancy, would make a decent purchase following the inevitable price cut.

Buy Invincible from Amazon.com: DVD / Blu-ray + DVD / Instant Video

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Related Interview:
An Interview with Vince Papale, the Inspiration for Disney's Invincible
UltimateDisney.com Interviews Vince Papale, The Inspiration for Invincible

Related Reviews:
Remember the Titans: Director's Cut • The Rookie • Mr. 3000 • Miracle
Goal! The Dream Begins • The Greatest Game Ever Played • Glory Road • Cinderella
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest • Gus • Angels in the Endzone
Eight Below • Cars • Annapolis • The Miracle Match • Stick It • Home Improvement: Season 3
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Four-Disc Extended Edition)
Classic Cartoon Favorites: Extreme Sports Fun • The Mighty Ducks • The Big Green

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Reviewed December 22, 2006.