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‘Invincible’ is déjà vu all over again

If you don’t know what's coming, you’ve obviously never seen a sports film. By John Hartl

Under David O. Russell’s direction, Mark Wahlberg did his best work to date in the Desert Storm movie, “Three Kings,” and the goofy metaphysical comedy, “I Heart Huckabees.” Along with “Boogie Nights” and “The Italian Job,” they demonstrate his potential as an actor, a personality and a movie star.

Unfortunately, Wahlberg has an evil twin who keeps making what can only be called Marky Mark movies: “Rock Star,” “Fear,” “The Big Hit,” “The Corruptor,” the redundant remakes of  “Charade” and “Planet of the Apes” and Disney’s equally redundant new sports movie, “Invincible.”

This true football story it tells has never been filmed before, yet it already feels like a remake. The title tells you everything you need to know about where the story is headed. If you’re surprised by the outcome of the final game, you’ve probably never seen a football.

The title is also a lame play on the name of the character Wahlberg plays: Vince Papale, a 30-year-old, down-on-his-luck bartender who lost his job and his wife before trying out for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976. Thanks to a coach who recognized his potential, he became a professional player who lasted for three seasons with the Eagles.

Greg Kinnear plays the coach, whose locker-room pep talks (“We need to find the soul of this team again”) unfortunately sound an awful lot like the motivational snake oil Kinnear’s deluded character peddles in a much better movie, “Little Miss Sunshine.”

Kinnear gives a solid performance, perhaps the most complex and original performance in “Invincible,” which doesn’t encourage much in the way of complexity or originality. But because of his “Sunshine” moonshine, it’s hard to shake the notion that the coach is a fake who doesn’t know what he’s peddling.

From first frame to last, “Invincible” has a similar identity problem. It doesn’t seem to know whether it’s a music video or a sports drama. The opening credits use Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name” to set the mood, and first-time director Ericson Core (from television’s “Family Law”) continues to search for a point of view by throwing pop songs on the soundtrack — everything from Carole King to Ted Nugent to Steely Dan to Johnny Mercer to Bachman-Turner Overdrive.

The screenwriter, Brad Gann (“Static”), doesn’t leave out a page of the Disney sports-movie playbook. Wahlberg’s depressed Papale is an underdog surrounded by other underdogs, including the lushes who frequent his bar and cheer him on. Elizabeth Banks plays his sports-savvy co-worker, who becomes his supportive girlfriend when the chips are down.

Of course there’s an overdressed manager (Michael Nouri) who’s putting pressure on the coach to push his team toward victory, and a semi-optimistic father (Kevin Conway) who encourages Papale without going overboard.

“Invincible” keeps insisting that it’s based on fact, and the finale aggressively pushes the idea by including home movies of Papale and his pals. Of course, they’re refreshingly genuine — and the only touches in this by-the-numbers movie (aside from all the big bad hair) that suggest a whiff of authenticity.