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Invincible (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 22, 2023



Starring Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Kirk Acevedo, Lola Glaudini, Kevin Conway, Michael Rispoli, Dov Davidson, Michael Kelly, Sal Darigo, Michael Nouri and Tony Luke, Jr.

Screenplay by Brad Gann.

Directed by Ericson Core.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  108 minutes.  Rated PG.

I grew up in Philadelphia and was a young boy and a huge Eagles fan during 1976, the time that this movie portrays. I lived through and remember the story of Vince Papale, an undrafted bartender in his 30s who was given a chance to play for the home team by new coach Dick Vermeil. I have to admit, this is a very loose interpretation of what really happened.

It’s an extremely enjoyable movie though, so I can’t complain too much. Movie biographies are known for taking liberties, so if this movie is more like Rocky (which, ironically, also took place in South Philly in 1976) than it is like the real history of Vince Papale and the moment in history when the Eagles started to change from perennial losers into one of the most consistently winning programs in the NFL, then that’s just the way that Hollywood goes.

Invincible was made by the same producers as The Rookie and Miracle – in other words they have made a specialty of films about unlikely sports figures who finally get the chance live their dreams, long after they have given up on them.

They downplay the fact that Papale, while a nice guy and a great story, was just a journeyman. He lasted on the team for less than three seasons and never made any kind of real impact or the starting lineup. He also was not on the Eagles’ Super Bowl team in 1980 (he was cut before the 1979 season), a point never explicitly confirmed or denied by the filmmakers, it seems they’d just as soon you assume that he was.

Conversely, the movie overplays the fact that he was just a bartender with no football background other than a weekly local pick-up game. He had actually been a star college athlete at St. Joseph’s (he was in track – St. Joe’s had no football team) and had just come off of playing two seasons for the Philadelphia Bell of the short-lived-but-heavily-hyped NFL rival league the World Football League in 1974 and 1975. Papale’s stats with the Bell were actually substantially better than the ones he had with the Eagles.

It isn’t a coincidence that the big life-changing football moment which forms the climax of the movie was just in the second game of a season which the Eagles ended up with a 4-10 record. It is also interesting that it was on a fumble he recovered and returned for a touchdown was done as a special teams player. Even though he was a wide receiver, Papale had no receptions during the entire season (in fact, he only had one in his three-year career with the Eagles.)

The movie exaggerates how much of a media circus it was; making it seem like Papale was a player who was fascinating to the media and even more popular locally than team stars Roman Gabriel, Harold Carmichael, Charlie Young and Bill Bergey. Not so. (Well, perhaps in the South Philly neighborhood that this movie nearly completely takes place in, because he was a local kid, but not in the city in general.) Also, I have no memory of the rest of the team hating and torturing Papale – granted it may have happened, but it seems like a plot device, somehow.

They play former team owner Leonard Tose as a snarling bad guy – while he could certainly be an asshole, it is generally agreed that he was mostly a charming-but-seriously-flawed man who did want to get a winner.

Also, the adorable Brooklyn-born barkeep (played charmingly by The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s Elizabeth Banks) who became Papale’s love interest – they never met until long after Papale’s football career was over.

However, like I said this is not the Vince Papale story; this is the Disney-ization of his story. As such, Invincible is a terrific film. Mark Wahlberg does his best work since Boogie Nights playing Papale and Greg Kinnear continues one of the most underappreciated careers in Hollywood with a stunning turn as head coach Dick Vermeil. The movie truly is rousing, and it makes you believe that this genuinely nice guy did become a huge star just through skill and hard work.

Just don’t go to Invincible looking to hear the real story.    (9/06)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006  All rights reserved.  Posted: September 8, 2006.


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