Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Invincible.”
The Movie: “Invincible ”
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks
Director: Ericson Core
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) Based on the story of Vince Papale, a 30-year-old bartender from South Philadelphia who overcame long odds to play for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 1976.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72 percent
Froemming: Sports Month isn’t over yet, because right at the end of July/early August, Brown and I took — separately — sportsball themed vacations. I went to San Diego to boo the Twins, and Brown went to the People’s Republic of China to gamble on kangaroo fights.
It has been quite the summer.
Anyway, to cap our sports themed month, I chose “Invincible.” We’re doing this review for you! Because of your harassment — and your love — for the New Kids on the Block movie, we are stuck watching Marky Mark reprise his Dirk Diggler wig and wardrobe from “Boogie Nights” to play a bartender who somehow finds himself on the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 1970s.
Also, the only reason I know this movie exists is from the episode “The Gang Gets Invincible” from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Of which I stole the New Kids on the Block joke above.
Brown, as I pop in my “Solid Gold – Hits Of The 70’s” collection — which is also a co-writer on this movie — why don’t you give us your first thoughts.
Brown: Bringing up “Solid Gold,” how did we not get this ‘70s hit – or the corresponding cover – in this movie? That’s a real (REDACTED) you to Soldier Boy.
Being the sports guy of the JOE-DOWN, I’ve heard of Vince Papale’s story, and I do remember this movie coming out. Never saw it before this week. And now, people can stop letting their jaws hit the floor and say “How are you a sports reporter and HAVEN’T seen ‘Invincible?’” Look, I haven’t seen “Miracle” either, so leave me alone!
My initial thoughts… yeah, this is a Marky Mark movie. It tells the tale of a hard-luck South Philly native *checks notes* with a Boston accent as he uses an open tryout to become a special teams star and folk hero for the Philadelphia Eagles.
And, before we get to this review, I should mention that I was in Philadelphia last week and yeah, South Philly is properly represented by this movie and by “IASIP.”
Froemming, get us started while I fight the urge to throw things at New York Giants fans.
Froemming: We begin with a montage of the mean streets of Philly, which honestly made me think this song should have been the soundtrack to it:
Brown: Right?! I figured either Springsteen or Billy Joel’s “Allentown” on repeat.
Froemming: Then we see some good-time buddies at an Eagles game, watching the team lose. As someone who has lived in Minnesota most of my life, I can say we get it. Jump to six months later, these goofballs are playing sandlot football either before or after bar, which given how drunk South Philly is, I buy it.
After the game, we see Vince Papale go home and get yelled at by his wife. Because instead of working and helping out financially, he is hanging out with his drunk buddies all the time.
Hell, we see he has not even paid his phone bill, so he doesn’t even know the school he works at let him go.
See, times are rough. It is the late 1970s, inflation is through the rough, gas prices are out of control and History’s Greatest Monster is president of the United States.
So, he loses his job but he has part-time work bartending. Which, can be good money but let’s face it, bartending hours are the only hours that are worse than the hours in journalism. Minus, you know, police, firefighters and EMTs.
Brown: While life is crapping all over Vince Papale, the Philadelphia Eagles are going through a string of awful seasons. Philly fans aren’t handling it well and well, they’re brutal folks. This is the same fan group that A. booed and threw snowballs at Santa; and B. once had a fan eat horse poop after their team WON the Super Bowl.
Froemming: I will never understand sports.
Brown: The kind of psychological breakdown needed for Philly sports fans is well beyond my pay grade.
Hoping to turn things around for the downtrodden Eagles is Dick Vermeil, the new head coach. During his introductory press conference, Vermeil announces that the team will hold open tryouts to anyone in the city who thinks they can play for the Eagles.
Vince and his good-time buddies hear this on TV and try to convince Vince to try out. See, he’s easily the stud in their pick-up games that *checks notes* take place in a vacant dirt field surrounded by cars?
Froemming: All these guys are in pretty good shape for all the beer and cheesesteaks they eat.
Brown: Frankly, I’m just glad that Vince heard the announcement once someone turned down KQRS long enough for him to hear it. Seriously, this movie’s soundtrack just needed a stinger from Tom Barnard and it’d be like sitting in Twin Cities rush-hour traffic.
Froemming: I told you this when I was watching: This movie has more gratuitous needle-drops than “Suicide Squad.” They burn through every song ever recorded in the 1970s in this 140 minute long movie.
Brown: Vince blows off the suggestion, considering that he never played college football and the NFL is just a wee bit harder to get into than his drunken pick-up games.
Plus, life just keeps taking a dump on him. Vince’s wife, Sharon, took all her stuff from their row home and left him. He trashes the place in his sadness and anger. It’s not the worst I’ve seen Mark Wahlberg handle a relationship, though.
Froemming: We see how poor they are because her Dear John letter is written on a piece of cardboard, so he can’t be that shocked, right? And he keeps this in his locker later on when practicing for the Eagles, which is weird. Very, very weird.
But hey, when God closes a door, He opens a dusty, never washed before bar window in South Philly. And for Vince, he is back in the game when he meets Janet, the new co-bartender who was recently dumped for tasting like a burger while working at a summer camp.
Brown: But don’t worry about Janet being around all these knuckle-dragging types at the bar. Why? Because she has older brothers, so she’s totally into sports! Even though it’s the New York Giants, one of the Eagles’ most hated rivals.
… Pretty women can like sports, Hollywood. They don’t need to be influenced by male siblings, or males in general. They go so far as to be all “well, if you really like the Giants, name one of their players.” I shouldn’t be surprised, being that this is a Disney movie and Disney does like its stereotyping.
Froemming: I kinda buy the idea that drunk blue-collar patrons in a South Philly bar in the late 1970s wouldn’t be very woke, but giving her an excuse like that for liking sports is cringey. The thing I do not buy is that this same South Philly bar in the late 1970s is not just a giant thick layer of cigarette smoke.
Brown: True, but this movie is covered in a sickly sepia tone that drove me nuts during the entire thing.
Froemming: That is just how everything looked in the 1970s, Brown. There was a lot of smog and air pollution going on.
Brown: Yes, but this movie somehow looks more sickly than “Joker,” which was the aesthetic that movie was going for.
Froemming: Anyway, she names names of players I have never heard of in my life, because sports is as foreign to me as national security issues from taking top secret classified documents from the White House are to Trump.
Anyway, Vince is talked into trying out for the Eagles. And he shows up at Veterans Stadium, where everyone is given a rousing speech by Donovan McNabb.
Brown: Was that the guy from “The Cosby Show?” Alvin, right?!
Froemming: THAT’S NOT THE GUY FROM “THE COSBY SHOW!”
So, as you expect, this idea of having schmucks walk in from nowhere to tryout for a pro NFL team was kinda stupid. We get all sorts of goofballs in capes and whatnot wasting everyone’s time, except for Vince. See, Vince might be 30 and a bartender, but he has the body and athleticism of a man who spends hours at a gym everyday. Just like all us other working stiffs, right Brown?
Brown: *wipes off Cheeto crumbs* Right.
Also, I thought the “IASIP” joke with the guys at the tryout having capes was, well, a joke. So my mind was blown when they had a bald dude with a cape in “Invincible.”
Vince gets on the coaches’ radar right away by running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, which yeah, is what you’d want out of an NFL player. Turns out, he also can catch the ball and hustle. Not bad for a 5-foot-8 30-year-old bartender with a Joe Don Baker haircut.
… Nevermind that the real Vince Papale A. was 6-2, B. played semi-pro football, and C. was a college track athlete. It’s a movie, so whatever.
So out of the hundreds to try out, Vince is the only one chosen to join the Eagles at training camp. He’s a long shot, but hey, he’s in. And now, he and his buddies who are all on strike and can’t afford a night on the town are going to get shitfaced.
Vince is still in dire straits, to the point that he had to go to his neighbor’s house to watch a TV report on him seeing that Vince doesn’t have a TV. Or as far as we know, furniture to sit on. He’s also eating leftover spaghetti out of a large bowl. As a single man in his mid-30s, that hit too hard. At least Vince was wearing pants while doing that.
Froemming: He also borrows money from his dad, who also spent time in Oz with his union buddy.
His father gives him advice too. Like, don’t get your hopes up. And following your dreams is a losing game. You know, typical South Philly dad.
And now Vince enters training camp. With this new coach. And the new coach has high expectations for these guys, because of how much they have been losing and whatnot. Maybe letting Vince in was his way of saying “You’re all so bad that this idiot can make the team.”
And Vince gives his all, making these pros look so bad that an idiot like him just might make the team. He is going so hard that some players tell him there are more days of practice, so maybe settle down, chief.
Brown: Well, considering everyone thought Vince would be the first one cut from the team, the surefire pros are dismissive of Vince and his guy-trying-too-hard-at-YMCA-basketball routine.
After his first day, Vince leaves training camp to go take Janet out for cheesesteaks. That sounds great! Cheesesteaks (REDACTED) rule.
With that said, he didn’t have to get cheesesteaks in hopes of getting with Elizabeth Banks. All you have to do is ask questions, be cool, and be kind of a dick. Think David Caruso in “Jade.”
But as they’re standing in line, Vince decides that he’s gotta focus up because he’s gotten farther than anyone ever expected, so a relationship isn’t in the cards. Janet also doesn’t want a relationship, so we’re all done here, right?
As someone who’s put work in front of relationships for longer than I like to admit, bad form here, Vince. Also, no one got a cheesesteak, and now I feel bad for everyone here.
Froemming: Training camp is winding down. And Dick Vermeil and his staff have to decide on keeping some veteran player or this bartender from Philly. For Dick, character is more important than talent, which is probably not a good concept for a coach to have, since you really need good talent to win games. His staff tell him to dump Vince, because it would be crazy not to.
Well, Dick is crazy because he welcomes Vince to the team in a private meeting where he was supposed to kick this schmuck off the damn team. But he sees something in Vince, good character, good guy, the heart of the team. How can this go wrong?
The team ends up losing six of its preseason games.
Brown: My head canon is that Vince was going to be cut before the best recruit from training camp, Doyle McPoyle, was shot in the leg by a short, balding man on acid.
Vince’s first regular-season game, against the defending NFC champion Dallas Cowboys, doesn’t go well. He hesitates while on the Eagles’ kickoff team and gets smoked by a blocker. Coach Vermeil chews out Vince since the coach put his neck out for Vince and he blew it in one of his few moments to shine.
How does Vince get over this? By playing a pick-up football game with his drunk buddies that HAS to be a violation of his contract.
Froemming: It’s the 1970s, Brown. Nobody paid any attention to contracts. Also, the pick-up game rekindles his friendship with his unemployed buddy, who has been hassling him the whole movie for following his dreams like some asshole. But the game does the job, because Vince is now ready to play the Giants. Because he played in the mud with his drunk friends…
Yeah I don’t get this. Works for a Disney moment, does not work with any other forms of logic.
Oh, and the Giants are Janet’s team, because she is from the Big Apple or something. Does she cheer her friend on? No, no she cheers for the Giants while wearing a Giants shirt at this game. Which, given I do this on my family baseball trips (wearing the shirt of the team the Twins are playing against) I can only say Kudos. Janet and Elaine get it.
Brown: Friend? Froemming, Vince and Janet hooked up the night before the Giants game. I think they’re beyond friends at this point.
Froemming: Friends can listen to “Endless Love” in the dark, Brown.
Brown: I disagree. The friend zone is real and “Endless Love” is not for friends.
Brown: Anyways, the elevation of Vince and Janet’s relationship makes it even weirder that she’s leaning hard into the Giants fandom. Though, to be fair, she’s cheering hard for Vince when he’s on the field for, like, all seven plays he’s in for.
Also, I feel like the Philly fans are pretty restrained when Janet takes her seat in Veterans Stadium. There’s just some boos and some popcorn thrown at her. I feel like with Philly sports fans, someone’s throwing either a battery or a cup of piss at her. Philly fans are brutal, dude.
Froemming: Well, one of the bar regulars with her at the game goes up a few rows and beats the shit out of a guy yelling at her, so…
Brown: Look what they do to people harassing the Philly Phanatic. Even the Phanatic gets into it!
During the game, Vince is having his best performance to date with a pair of special teams tackles.
Then on the punt team, Vince makes the play of the game. He calls an audible at the line when he realizes a tell on one of the down lineman’s knuckles. Getting past his guy with ease, Vince has a clear path to the punt returner who inexplicably doesn’t call a fair catch so he doesn’t get smoked by Mark Wahlberg.
Instead, Marky Mark makes him feel the vibration.
Froemming: The guy fumbles allowing Vince to pick up the ball and run in a touchdown. Which I think wins the game for the loser Eagles. I mean, one victory after seven losses really does not make this moment all that great when I think about it. Good for Vince, he made his friends and pop proud, but there is a whole damn season left. He better be doing this every game.
And unless you have studied this season of the Eagles, you don’t really get to know that, because the movie ends here. With some postscripts on how Vince played for a few more years, Vermeil made the team a winning one, going all the way to Super Bowl XV! Though the movie fails to mention the Eagles lost that game 27-10.
We learn that Vince married Janet and moved to New Jersey, which makes this even more depressing.
Brown: It’s also weird that Coach Vermeil is in another sports movie that just came out in “American Underdog,” the story about Kurt Warner. Vermeil is played by Dennis Quaid in that film. So yeah, apparently Dick Vermeil has his own cinematic universe?
Froemming, let’s get to recommendations while Mark Wahlberg talks to animals.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: No. This was not a good movie. I would rather have watched a documentary on Papale’s story.
Brown: Sure. I was entertained by this flick. The Vince Papale story is a fun one for a feel-good Disney movie.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN: