This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
A lot of reporters secretly believe they can do a better job than the men they write about. Movie critics, for example, are convinced they could make a better movie. Political reporters believe they're brighter and better informed than the politicians they write about and this is usually true.
But in the field of pro football, alas, the argument breaks down. Jack Griffin and Bill Gleason are good men and true, but if they put on a Bears uniform and went into a game, they'd get creamed, baby. And that is the charm of "Paper Lion," which is about an intellectual, a writer, a Harvard grad no less, who joined the Detroit Lions, and put on the uniform, and got into a game, and got creamed. I don't know what to make of "Paper Lion" as a movie -- it will not be immortal, I guess -- but as wish fulfillment, it's crackerjack.
George Plimpton did join the Lions, and wrote the most engaging sports book of recent years (unless you can count that psychoanalytic study of Bobby Fischer). The movie is "an amiable fiction" based on the real story, we are told. Plimpton bids his wife and editor goodbye, goes to training camp, manages to fool the players for about 24 hours, lands in some bruising scrimmages, weathers the hostility of the pros, and wins a sort of grudging respect from them. He sticks it out.
The scenes on the football field are absorbing and hilarious by turns; I imagine pro football fans will enjoy the movie enormously. Plimpton, at quarterback, writes his plays on the tape around his wrist -- but they rub off. In a tavern, he almost gets in a fight defending the Lions' reputation and has to be carried off by the real Lions. In a pre-season game with the St. Louis Cardinals, he gets in for a few seconds, and, yes, he gets creamed.
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