Review by Dustin Putman
2 stars out of 4
"The Rookie," directed by John Lee Hancock, is a typical, feel-good
sports movie that yearns to be like 2000's "Remember the Titans,"
but lacks the energy and isn't as focused. Like its football predecessor,
the baseball-themed "The Rookie" is based on a true story, and makes
the mistake of assuming this particular story is one worth telling
solely because of this fact. Unfortunately, the film is all over the
map. Small, delicate scenes are intermixed with interminably long
patches that could have easily been shortened. The picture might still
not have necessarily been a great one, but at least it wouldn't have
tested the patience so much.
Ever since his childhood days of being an army brat and moving rapidly
from town to town, Jimmy Morris (Dennis Quaid) has had a strong passion
for baseball. Due to an injury from the past that took him away from
playing the sport, Jimmy now works as a science teacher at a West
Texas high school. On the side, he coaches the school's underdog baseball
team, who seem to lack commitment. When it is exposed that Jimmy's
strong pitching arm has returned, the team makes a deal with him that,
if they improve and win the district championship, he will try out for the minor leagues.
At home, Jimmy is happily married to the high school's guidance counselor,
Lorrie (Rachel Griffiths), and has three young children. While Jimmy
can't help but think about taking a chance at the one thing he has
always dreamt about but never achieved, he worries if the sacrifices
his family may have to make in return is fair to them.
Following a prologue that shows Jimmy as a young teenager (Trevor
Morgan), "The Rookie" spends an inordinate amount of time focusing
on the high school baseball team's experiences during the season.
Since the film is supposed to be Jimmy's story of triumph, this elongated
detour that takes up half the running time pulls the focus away from
him. By the time Jimmy tries out for the minors, the film has taken
so long to get to this point that the second half progressively grows
tedious. The finale, which is meant to be a crowd-pleaser, is so deliberately
paced that it doesn't succeed on this count, either.
For a motion picture that is supposed to be about one's love for baseball,
the sport almost appears to be viewed as a tedious burden up until
the conclusion. Jimmy is apprehensive about trying out for the minors
because of his age and, even after he makes the team, it takes him
away from his family for several months, causing him to be unhappy.
When director John Lee Hancock and screenwriter Mike Rich (2000's
"Finding Forrester") make a sharp U-turn at the end and change their
stance and Jimmy's on baseball, it is all the more difficult to swallow.
What "The Rookie" does get right is its mostly realistic character
study of Jimmy, as well as the treatment of his solid relationship
with Lorrie. The film thankfully dodges being sugarcoated in its emotions,
even though cliches abound, such as Jimmy's problems with his difficult
father (Brian Cox) and their eventual outcome.
Dennis Quaid (2000's "Traffic") has always been a sorely underrated
actor, and he slips into the shoes of Jimmy Morris with ease and dignity.
Quaid humanizes his character enough that we do care about his happiness,
even if we don't care about the plodding story he has been dropped
in. Rachel Griffiths (2001's "Blow"), as the supportive Lorrie, does
a nice job with a slightly underwritten part. It is nice to see Griffiths
in a larger-scale movie than she is usually used to, but she deserves
better material to work with.
"The Rookie" features a handful of memorable scenes, and the small-town
feel of the proceedings is sumptuously transferred to film by cinematographer
John Schwartzman (2001's "Pearl Harbor"), who makes good use of golden,
sunlit hues. As a whole, however, it doesn't garner the type of impact
it should. A tighter editor and a more centered screenplay could have
done wonders for "The Rookie," which, in this finished incantation,
is a well-meaning film that doesn't really offer up enough reasons
for why it deserves to be seen.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman