Invincible is a reasonably entertaining gumbo of The Rookie, Rocky and a long list of underdog-makes-good sports movies. It’s not particularly groundbreaking or even all that original, but the movie holds together on the strength of a solid cast and attention to detail.
This movie purports to be the true story of how down-on-his-luck bartender, unemployed teacher and die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) got a shot to play for his beloved team when new coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) holds open tryouts after a particularly woeful season. Thirty-year-old Vince, who hasn’t played since high school, is urged to try out by his friends at the bar where he works.
Vince could use a break at this point. He has recently lost his teaching job and his wife has left. When the tryouts are announced, he has been forced to swallow his pride and go to his father (Kevin Conway) for help paying the rent.
The tryout attracts a large crowd of dreamers with more enthusiasm than skill, but Vermeil notices that Vince has NFL-class speed and can actually catch a ball. Of the thousand who tried out, Vince is the only one invited to training camp.
Arriving at camp as an outsider, Vince has to battle the hostility of the other players, who see him as an interloper on their hallowed turf, and his own self-doubts. He seems to be the only one among his friends who realizes that his chances of making the team are small. His own confidence gets a boost from his fellow bartender, the pretty, football-crazy cousin of the owner. Janet (Elizabeth Banks) has only one fatal flaw: she’s from New York, making her a fan of the hated Giants.
Like most such “true” stories, Invincible’s allegiance to the facts is not exactly one-hundred percent. Vince Papale did get his shot at the pros via an open tryout, but it was with the Philadelphia Bell of the late, unlamented World Football League. His performance there attracted the attention of Dick Vermeil, who already had some NFL experience with the Los Angeles Rams before joining the Eagles. Leaving the WFL out of the story was a convenient way to streamline the narrative, also creating the necessary conflict between Vince and the other players, as I doubt he was seen as much of an intruder in the upstart WFL.
The story of the luckless outsider getting a shot at the big time is right out of the Rocky play book, a connection that the Philadelphia setting and scenes of Mark Wahlberg running the streets makes somewhat explicit (“Rocky” was actually Papale’s real nickname among the players, inspired by the movie). Invincible is not in Rocky’s weight class but it is a very competent, appealing entry in the inspirational sports film genre sparked by the success of Remember the Titans.