Mark Wahlberg stops well short of 6 feet tall and, at 35, looks like he could weigh a muscular 170. In the movie, he plays Vince Papale, who was 6 feet, 2 inches and 195 pounds when, at age 30 (in 1976), he got onto the Philadelphia Eagles. As a receiver, he had three seasons, made some major plays, and inevitably was dubbed Rocky, in line with '76's other big Philly rouser, the Stallone film.Smartly directed and photographed by Ericson Core, the movie makes us go with Wahlberg's Papale, who answers an open talent call with a mob of other fans as coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear, looking very fresh from California) starts his tenure with the dispirited Eagles. It's basically a pep stunt, yet speedy Papale gets into training (the real Vince played a year of high school football, ran track in college and played briefly for a minor football team, while teaching school and bartending).
In the film, he's a working stiff, often mired with other "losers" at a bar. Though set in '76, the story doesn't mention Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford or the Bicentennial, but it has politics. It's a Frank Capra solidarity grabber, about how working people, who feel left behind, give a hard old city its guts and pin their dreams to sports.
Core has the core conviction for it and does something crafty. The early scenes nearly all take place in the bar, the narrow streets and skinny row houses of South Philly. And then, when Papale plays his first pro game, the immense, roaring space of the stadium is like a whale engulfing him (of course, his team is zapped by the mighty Dallas Cowboys).
Less about sports than people, "Invincible" is finely populated. It has lots of "Rocky"-style guys and Kinnear's credible, anxious Vermeil; Kevin Conway as Papale's nearly beaten dad; and a greatly appealing, blond bartender (Elizabeth Banks) who roots for the New York Giants but mainly for her new man, Vince (in life, they married).
Wahlberg looks like he could be pounded to the grass by his own teammates, yet alone the massive opponents. But he (or his double) runs well, and he has the grounded, word-shy charm that first made him a star in "Boogie Nights." He may never be a major actor, but he'd gone a long way from being Marky Mark.
The movie grinds out some formula yardage but is never just rote. Its heart is really is in the old, battered city, with all the people who wanted to see the Eagles (as Vermeil says) "shake the rust from their shoulder pads" and fly again. They did.
A Walt Disney Pictures release. Director: Ericson Core. Writer: Brad Gann. Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rispoli, Michael Nouri, Kevin Conway. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. Rated PG. 3 stars.