On-screen and off, George Clooney is like a holdover from a time—which, admittedly, may only have ever existed in the movies—when men were witty gentlemen who knew how to dress, how to charm the pants off a lady, and how to throw a punch if the occasion called for it. All of which makes Clooney's third film as a director, Leatherheads, sound almost too good to be true: a 1920s screwball comedy with Clooney as a scrappy hustler trying to put a respectable face on the down-and-dirty sport of professional football while a feisty reporter (Renée Zellweger) attempts to take down the golden-boy college-football star (The Office star John Krasinski) who Clooney is banking on as his meal ticket. It's an appealing screwball premise, and there's little question that Clooney has done his homework. He's decked out Leatherheads with fast-talking ink-slingers who seem to have walked right out of The Front Page and a battle-of-the-sexes bedroom scene borrowed from It Happened One Night. He's also cast actors who play very well in period mode, and given them dialogue strewn with rat-a-tat rejoinders. But for all that looks and sounds right here, Leatherheads never quite feels right. The tempo seems a half-beat or so off Sturges or Hawks—it aims for clickety-clack and ends up closer to clickety-clunk. It's the least visually adventurous of Clooney's three films, too.
Clooney takes Zellweger on a Leatherheads ride.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., April 4. Rated PG-13. 114 minutes.