NEW YORK -- Went to the premiere of The Rookie the other night. Quoting Tom Cruise, Dare I say it? Michelle Kwan, Willie Mays, Spike Lee, Sandy Alderson, Hallie Eisenberg and James Lipton have never before been in the same place at the same time.
But we’re not here to talk about the gala, which featured Winter Olympic stars, mustachioed ex-pitchers (Sparky Lyle! Bert Blyleven! Rollie Fingers!), Dennis Quaid, Jim Morris and Mr. Met; or the party afterwards at the ESPN Zone, festooned as it was with yellow roses, white baseballs and red Jiffy Lube insignias. No, we’re here to talk about the movie based on the inspirational story of Morris, the science teacher-turned-Devil Ray.
The Rookie is a rarity among baseball movies: It did not make me want to yell Fire!
This is actually a rave. Over the years, I have sat through so many bad baseball movies, so many revelations that certain actors throw like girls (Tony Danza! John Goodman! Keanu Reeves!), so many lame attempts at verisimilitude that made you think Charles Nelson Reilly was the technical advisor. In the field of Seamhead Cinema, The Rookie is a lot closer to The Bad News Bears than it is to The Bad News Bears Go To Japan.
Look, we’re not talking Oscars all around here. (It’s released in March, after all.) A few too many flashbacks, a few too many shots of eye poetry, and an overly signficant father-son storyline slow the movie down -- at 2:20, it’s still shorter than a ballgame. But because the true story of how Morris came to pitch in the majors at a ripe old age is essentially a cliché, the movie doesn’t have to depend on a series of them. The director, John Lee Hancock (My Dog Skip), does a nice job of capturing small-town West Texas, and Quaid does a really nice job of portraying a family man caught between reality and a delayed dream.
As for his pitching, well, while Quaid is no Charlie Sheen, he’s no Tim Robbins, either. Too much of the torque for those 98-mph fastballs seems to come from his face, but he at least looks like he threw a ball before.
There are other things my inner Olbermann picked up. (If you want to find your own mistakes when the movie comes out, skip to the next paragraph.) I didn’t know what was harder to believe, that scouts would make a pitcher throw in the pouring rain, or that the drenched pitcher could actually bring it at 98 while pushing off the muddy mound. Since when does a pitcher eschew warmup pitches, as Quaid does? Why does he always throw from the stretch? How come the cute and savvy son asks on the night of the callup, “What’s a Devil Ray?” And in the climactic scene, couldn’t they get Royce Clayton to play Royce Clayton? (What good is the power of Disney if the director can’t say, “Get me Royce Clayton!”)
But that’s the crank in me talking. The hopeless baseball romantic got a couple of good cries out of The Rookie, as well as a few laughs. And in exchange, I give it one finger down.
That means I trust The Rookie’s fastball.
ESPN is a division of Disney, which produced The Rookie.
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