review by Dan Lybarger, 5 April 2002
Jim Morris was a kid who dreamed of
playing baseball in the major leagues and actually did it for two
seasons. Few athletes reach such lofty heights and even fewer do so
when they've reached thirty-five. In most other lines of work,
that's the age when most begin to hit their strides. But the
punishment that playing sports takes on a body, sends baseball
players into retirement well before they've become senior citizens.
Morris could throw a ninety-eight-mile-an-hour fastball at an age
when most ballplayers are long gone from the game.
In The Rookie, first-time
director John Lee Hancock, who also wrote the scripts for Clint
Eastwood's A Perfect World and Midnight in the Garden of
Good and Evil, treats Morris's career like a kind of visual folk
tale. He and screenwriter Mark Rich (Finding Forrester) play
up the larger-than-life elements of Morris's quest, making the
unlikely nature of tale seem more palatable.
The movie opens with a sepia-tinged
prologue in which two nuns discover that prayer can make seemingly
foolish decisions, like loaning money to a wildcat oil driller, can
later turn into acts of providence.
Similarly, young baseball
enthusiast Jim Morris (played as a child by Trevor Morgan) devotes
considerable energy to baseball even though his family is never in
one place long enough for Jim to join a team. Naturally, his dad
(played by the redoubtable Brian Cox), a Navy man with little time
for sports, wants the lad to try more obviously practical pursuits.
As Jim gets older, he and his family move to a small Texas town
ironically named Big Lake where baseball is almost non-existent.
Even Jim's arm betrays him. Some injuries prevent him from ever
advancing beyond the minor leagues.
As an adult, Jim (now played by
Dennis Quaid) has abandoned his childhood fantasies completely. He's
now teaching high school science classes and has married a guidance
counselor named Lorrie (Australian actress Rachel Griffiths). With
three kids of his own, the only time Jim has for baseball is for
coaching a fairly sorry team at his school. Unbeknownst to Jim,
years of keeping himself in shape and off the pitcher's mound have
left him with an arm that can toss lightning.
In the heart of football country,
the only beings willing to attend the baseball diamond are the deer
that graze on the outfield at night. The team's performance doesn't
help. The kids, however, notice the heat that's left in Jim's arm,
so they make a bet with Jim that if they can make the state finals,
he will try out for the majors.
Both events come to pass, and
Hancock and Rich somehow manage to keep things interesting. It helps
that movie readily acknowledges the difficulties that a
thirtysomething player would have in the minors. Jim may be in
better condition than his younger peers, but he has far more
obligations than they do. AA ballplayers, unlike their brethren in
the majors, earn wages more akin to a fry cook. The movie also,
thankfully, depicts Morris' home life in an unflinching manner.
Jim's family is happy that he can still intimidate on the mound, but
they can't decide if his efforts to make the pros are brave or
There are a fair amount of cornball
touches here and there (do we really need to hear the ball go
"whoosh" every time Jim throws it?), but Quaid's performance proves
to be a solid anchor. He might be a good decade older than Morris
was at the time, but he does look convincing on the mound. As he has
matured, a look of resignation has accompanied his trademark grin.
This diffidence gives The Rookie a dramatic weight it
wouldn't have had otherwise.
Ron Shelton, the writer-director
behind the classic baseball flick, Bull Durham, stated that
in order to for a sports movie to work, the cameras have to be able
to go where a TV network crew can't. Because The Rookie
manages to go deep inside Jim Morris's heart, the inevitable
clichés don't seem like that much of a problem.
John Lee Hancock
G - General Audiences
All Ages Admitted.