The Rookie Movie Review

The Rookie, as you may have figured out from its television advertising blitz, is the true story of Jimmy Morris, a 35-year-old high school science teacher and baseball coach that takes one last shot at his dream of playing in the Major Leagues. It's definitely an inspiring story, but unfortunately the filmmakers never manage to build a strong momentum as the story wends through Morris's life.

The primary shortcoming of the film is that it takes three or four separate stories and loosely strings them together, while leaving out perhaps the most interesting story of all. Granted, the centerpiece of the film is how a high school science teacher makes his way to the major leagues, but this story seems rushed and almost an afterthought by the time we get to it. Instead, the filmmakers take up too much time early on relaying a tenuously related fable about nuns and the origins of baseball in Jim's rural Texas town, and then mill around in Morris's childhood, focusing on his strained relationship with the stern father that did not support his dream.

Probably the most entertaining of the stories, albeit one we've seen before, concerns the high school baseball team that overcomes all the odds. The film finds its most relaxed pace during this segment, and thus we are afforded an opportunity to connect with the team's players. Unfortunately, this connection is cut short as soon as Morris leaves town to pursue his own dream.

Ultimately, the film's big payoff (I'll let you guess when that happens) delivers some of the emotion that the film has been searching for, but not quite enough. If the film had focused itself more on one steady plot, using the other story lines anecdotally, or simply integrating characters and themes better, perhaps it would have resonated a little more.

Or maybe the stilted feel of the movie comes not from the many stories it includes, but the one it leaves out. Early on we cut from Morris as a 15-year-old dreamer to Morris as a 35-year-old has-been. It is almost as amazing that Morris made it to the Minor Leagues without having a team to play on in high school as it is that he came back as a 98-mile-an-hour fastball thrower at the age of 35, and our picture of Morris seems somehow incomplete without an understanding of how he pulled this off.

Taken together, these storytelling issues demonstrate the degree to which a film can falter as a result of its editing. The filmmakers obviously decided to leave in the scenes they decided were the most interesting anecdotes, but the result is a stilted string of short stories, many of which we've seen before. Had the film tried harder to find more congruity and arc, perhaps the emotion would have built from start to finish rather than stopping and starting so many times.

As it stands, there are some funny and touching moments scattered throughout the film, most involving the reactions of Morris's high school players and his son in response to his newfound, Herculean abilities. Dennis Quaid is affable and convincing as Morris, and Rachel Griffiths, as Morris's wife, manages to avoid the two-dimensional nagging wife mold that so many have fallen into in this role. But Brian Cox, though a sometimes powerful actor, is not so lucky and is not given much to work with as the stereotypically stern and disapproving father.

The Rookie's DVD is cute, with a few deleted scenes (nothing special) and commentary from director John Lee Hancock. Baseball fans might be more interested in the "spring training" feature, which provides a pro's tips on playing the game in real life. A documentary short digests the true Jimmy Morris story as well, featuring the real rookie himself.

Stuffed cow: It's not just for breakfast anymore.


The Rookie Rating

" OK "

Rating: G, 2002


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