This feel-good movie, based on a true story, is a slightly better than
average tale of the average Joe chasing an above average dream.
The recipe for this tale is simple: Take one part Bad News Bears,
three parts The Natural and one part Disney's stellar storytelling,
mix for a little more than two hours and--voilà!--you get The Rookie.
Jim Morris is a West Texas high school teacher and baseball coach whose
try at the big leagues ended 10 years ago with yet another shoulder
surgery. (He grew up as baseball-loving army brat whose dad moved the
family often, eventually relocating them to the baseball-hating town of
Big Lake.) Thus we start with the somewhat bitter Jim, one who pines to
leave Big Lake, his childhood and his stern, overbearing father behind.
After seeing his fastball, the team he coaches makes a bet with him--if
they win the district title, he has to try out for the major leagues
again. After a miserable start, the team wins 17 games and captures the
district title, compelling Jim to try out for the Tampa Bay Devil
Rays...and I'm willing to bet you can see where this is headed.
Ultimately, Jim's magical ride to "The Show" heals all wounds.
Dennis Quaid handles the protagonist's inner conflict ("Should I toil
to fulfill my familial responsibilities and give up my dream, or toil as
an underpaid minor leaguer and sacrifice being with my family?") well
enough, but his real triumph in the limited role is the somewhat
convincing way he pitches. (By contrast, Tim Robbins looked ridiculous
pitching in Bull Durham.) Rachel Griffiths is, as always, a
competent professional and as Jim's wife strikes a nice balance between
being supportive yet worried about what's going to happen to her family
and her life. The rest of the characters are written flat, though the
wasted cast (including crazy/beautiful's Jay Hernandez as a member
of the high school team Morris coaches) tries to rise above the pedestrian
dialogue. The sole exception is Angus T. Jones; the kid is cuter than cute
and helps carry the movie.
To say that the direction is a bit heavy-handed is to say that Everest
is just a bit tall. At every turn director John Lee Hancock lays it on
pretty thick. The inclusion of a Big Lake landmark called Saint Rita #1,
an oil well funded by nuns and named after the patron saint of impossible
dreams, is just the beginning. Many more hackneyed moments permeate the
film on the way to a predictable end. Still, Hancock stays true to the
source material (a book co-written by the real Jim Morris), which is so
improbable that you can't help wonder if it's made up. (It's not. In a
wonderful cameo, Royce Clayton re-enacts his at-bat with Morris. Clayton,
indeed, was Morris' first strikeout victim.) Perhaps, then, Hancock's
direction isn't so much overdone schmaltz as it is paean to the dreamlike
reality of Morris' life. Major league baseball may have lost its innocence
in real life, but in this movie, Hancock is able to give a little of it
back, if just for a moment.
The story is clichéd and the direction is heavy-handed--yet, I loved
every moment of it, and couldn't help myself cheering Morris' every
triumph along the way. Who doesn't want to believe that dreams, even
impossible ones, can come true?