Every so often, Mark Wahlberg gets hold of a role that lets him reconnect with what made him a star. Inevitably, these roles are all about becoming a star: According to the Wahlberg myth, which replays Marky Mark’s own transformation from thug rapper to Hollywood idol, he’s a not-too-bright, no-frills dude, a trusting boy in a hunk’s body, who gets shoved into the limelight — as a porn star, a rock star, or, in the heartfelt and gratifying new sports movie Invincible, a football star. What gives Wahlberg’s innocent-roughneck version of Cinderella’s rise its peculiar resonance is that even after his characters are famous, they can’t quite shake the impostor syndrome: They are ordinary guys, gifted in one special way, trying to believe that they belong in the big arena.
Invincible, a true-life gridiron Rocky, casts him as Vince Papale, who in 1976 was a 30-year-old bartender in South Philly when he went in for an open tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles. The movie is steeped to its beer belly in that ’70s Eagles fever, with Vince and his buddies treating the team as an extended family, their mood swings cued to every win and loss. Since the team has been losing for years, they’re depressed — until Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), a new coach, gets brought in to turn things around. Wahlberg, with shaggy hair and a pumped bod he wears more convincingly than any actor, plays Vince as a guy who truly doesn’t expect to win. That makes his rib-bruising triumph all the more believable and touching.