Surprisingly, the redemption-by-baseball picture "Hardball" is not some warm-fuzzy "Bad News Bears" clone transplanted to the projects. It's considerably better than that.
Yes, it is about a drunk, gambling-addicted ticket scalper who spitefully agrees to coach a ghetto little league team for $500 a week to pay off a two angry bookies. Yes, the scalper is played by the historically vacuous Keanu Reeves, and yes, he's going to learn What's Really Important In Life from endearingly foul-mouthed street kids who live cautionary-tale type lives of inner city strife.
But as fast as "Hardball" sets up such eye-rolling clichés, director Brian Robbins knocks them down. There are no inspirational montages of the squad pulling together and honing their skills. The well-financed rival team? Present and accounted for, but not a major subplot. Ditto for the schoolteacher romantic interest (Diane Lane) and the headstrong tenement mom whose respect Reeves must earn.
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