All that's needed is a guy getting hit in the nuts and a food fight to have the first film solely based on cinematic clichés. I can't wait to see the deleted scenes when it comes out on DVD.
Obviously, Hardball is a strikeout of a movie that never gets the bat anywhere near the ball. It stars Keanu Reeves as the aforementioned gambler, who seems to owe every bookie in Chicago an amount of money that rivals the gross national product of Guam. Out of solutions, he begs his successful corporate friend (the always welcome Mike McGlone) to lend him $5,000. Instead, McGlone offers Reeves the chance to help him coach a youth baseball team from the projects for a nice weekly stipend.
Reeves, who wants to keep his fingers, accepts the offer, but discovers McGlone is only too happy to let him handle the team entirely. The drowsy-voiced protagonist must teach the sassy inner city kids the baseball basics in a life of absentee parents and merciless gangs. And maybe, just maybe, they'll play in the big championship game.
One of the glorious surprises in the screenplay by John Gatins (Summer Catch), adapted from Daniel Coyle's non-fiction book, is that there aren't any. The movie coasts from heartfelt moment to heartfelt moment like a zombie. That wouldn't be so bad, if the characters had an ounce of subtlety or humanity to them. Most of the kids' time is spent yelling at each other, talking in slang and acting surprised. There's little that's naturally amusing about them, as they all seem to know the cameras are rolling. The worst of the lot is a tough-talking younger player (DeWayne Warren) whose sole purpose, as the movie unfolds, is being an emotional pawn, a tactic so utterly despicable I can't find the right words to express myself.
The adults also don't fare well. Reeves is impressively uninspiring as the down-on-his-luck loser. The character is poorly written, but Reeves gives another charisma-free performance. Every time he speaks, he sounds like he just got up from a long nap and is gradually waking up. Kids are supposed to rally around this guy? Diane Lane, who co-stars as Reeves' obligatory love interest, remains a glowing screen presence (see My Dog Skip for better proof). It's too bad that her role here consists of uttering lines like, "These kids trust you, and they don't trust anyone!" Then there's D.B. Sweeney as an evil rival coach and John Hawkes as Reeves' scummy betting buddy and other unoriginal characters you've seen before and hope never to see again.
I wanted Hardball to be good. Robbins' Varsity Blues was a funny and alternately taut tale of Texas high school football that had Ali Larter smothered in whipped cream and Jon Voight sneering at everything that moved. I haven't seen Robbins' goofy Ready to Rumble in its entirety, but I am intrigued that "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Martin Landau can exist in the same movie without there being serious worldwide repercussions.
Robbins obviously needs to go back to his forte -- making sports movies for guys and not cutesy, cuddly pap such as Hardball, which also manages to annoy and insult the audience. Here's hoping that happens in the immediate future.
Winner gets to eat #11.
Run time: 97 mins
In Theaters: Tuesday 15th May 2001
Box Office USA: $39.7M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Munich Film Partners & Company (MFP) GHS Productions, GHS Productions KG, Nides/McCormick Productions
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 39%
Fresh: 39 Rotten: 61
IMDB: 4.5 / 10
Director: Brian Robbins
Screenwriter: John Gatins
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