WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Inspired by a true story, Dennis Quaid stars as Jimmy Morris, a Texas high school baseball coach who takes a bet from his team and agrees to try another shot at the big leagues if they win the State championship. When the pennant comes home, Jimmy takes another stab at his dream, cut short years before by a blown out shoulder but low and behold, he finds himself tossing 98mph fastballs and closer than ever to his destiny.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Can anyone say Disney? I can, and the famed studio strikes again with an inspirational tale of impossible dreams. First-time director John Lee Hancock hits a homerun with his baseball fairy tale and his magic pumpkin happens to be the always sturdy Dennis Quaid. Quaid's great performance as the happy yet not completely fulfilled coach / science teacher and father of three is yet another in a career I've long admired. He manages to give his character an subtle aura of having something lacking in his life without letting it become the central point of the character. He is first of all a family man, who takes a chance when an opportunity, mixed with a miraculous arm happen to land on his lap. While the film's greatest fault, its 127 minute running time, is a bit too much to handle considering the film does move at a slow fantasy and slow-motion filled pace, it remains a very moving story that doesn't lose you along the way and keeps you interested not only in Quaid's character, but also in all the members of the supporting cast.
Quaid is well seconded by Rachel Griffiths, as his wife Lorri and screen veteran Brian Cox turns in yet another grade-A performance as Morris' dad. The kids making up Morris' 10-man baseball team also get their hits, as does Angus T. Jones, the adorable kid who plays Morris' son Hunter. I'm not usually a fan of child actors but this kid is pretty nice to watch. All these characters make up a nice little Texas landscape, complete with the barber shop, the general store and the oil derricks spread out all over the fields. But the real star is Jim Morris' arm, spewing out fastballs that would get from New York to LA in about 20 minutes and attached to that arm is Quaid, as the glue holding all of the above together.
The film also looks quite nice as the crew manages to maximize the use of the grand landscapes and sunsets to give the film a little bit of a magical look and it has a pretty nice little soundtrack to match. It's also neat that since this story all happened only a few years ago, anyone can actually get interested in the film and look up the facts. The baseball fans among us will just dig up some memories and remember the man who played bits of two seasons with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and their Los Angeles Dodgers and who, at age 35, became the oldest rookie in the history of major league baseball. It's nice in a way but in another, less than a week away from another MLB strike deadline, we can all but wonder if we'll ever see a heartwarming story like this in the game again...
Some pretty neat stuff is offered on the DVD in terms of bonus material. The full-length commentary by director John Lee Hancock and star Dennis Quaid is not one of them. Unfortunately, Hancock doesn't have much practice at this and basically just goes on and on about each different angle and shot in the film and about any little plot nuance you can imagine. Quaid isn't really much help to him either, as he just distributes sparse comments here and there. It was a pretty slow paced commentary track. You get into some more meaty offerings a bit later with almost twenty minutes worth of deleted scenes. Seven scenes make up the lot and each comes with a little intro by Hancock, mainly about the reasons for its removal. Some of the scenes are pretty nice but none really added anything new, so they were probably better off on the cutting room floor. Like I said though, some of them do look very nice and are worth a look.
The next feature is actually the coolest on the DVD, and the coolest of many DVD's I've seen. Entitled "Spring Training" and hosted by Mark Robert Ellis, the film's baseball coordinator, it's a series of baseball tips regarding some of the basic points of the game. Pitching, catching, infield play, outfield, hitting and eating hot-dogs are all covered and you're guaranteed at least a half hour of fun with this. If you have kids starting out with the game, it's also a neat way of getting them interested. Last but not least is a half-hour featurette entitled "The Inspirational Story", in which the true story of Jim Morris' improbable career is explained in a bit more detail. Appearances by Morris himself, by his mother and by a player from his high school team are in there and Morris looks like a genuinely nice fellow. Some live game footage from his big league debut is also in there. A good time for any ball fan.
With the current state of affairs in baseball, people are hard pressed to find something positive about the game but as this story reveals, baseball is greater than any individual greedy owner or player. The film shows us what this game, and any other sport is built on, which is the dreams of many, lived out by only a privileged few. Like I said above, don't expect many positive stories to come out of major league baseball any time soon, so take advantage of this one and enjoy the game the way it was meant to be.