Image Entertainment // 2009 // 117 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 17th, 2011
Nine boys, one dream.
"It's what I've always wanted: respect."
Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr, Capote) was once a major league coach, but lately he's been toiling away in a Monterey factory. Embittered and tired, he feels his best days are behind him. One day, a young child approaches Cesar with an offer: how 'bout coaching (and forming, for that matter) a local little league team? The ex-coach resists at first, but finally agrees. As time passes, the team not only becomes competent but genuinely competitive. Their ultimate goal: to make it to the 1957 Little League World Series. How far can this scrappy band of underdogs go?
There's something exhilarating about seeing an underdog beat the odds and achieve something incredible. Sports fans around the world have seen variations on this story time and time again, and their memories are now accompanied by "I remember where I was when..." stories. It's easy to understand why filmmakers continue to turn such stories into films, as there's a larger-than-life quality to these events that seems like it ought to be cinematic gold. Sometimes, that's exactly what happens. More often than not, we get something predictable and routine. Seeing underdogs lose in the movies is even more uncommon than seeing them win in real life.
All of this to get around to telling you that The Perfect Game is more or less every inspirational sports film ever made, only this time it's set in 1957. Director William Dear is actually something of a specialist in this field, having previously turned in such efforts as Angels in the Outfield, The Sandlot: Heading Home, and Free Style. Dear hits all the usual bases: the coach using his underdog team as a means of finding personal redemption, the montages of the boys getting progressively better, the subplots involving unsupportive parents, the racism encountered as the kids arrive in America, the motivational speeches, the darkness just before the dawn, the newsreel footage dissolving into movie footage...the list goes on.
Admittedly, some of these conventions are unavoidable given that, well, some of them actually happened. Even so, Dear fails to make the journey feel like a snapshot of what life was really like for these kids. Nearly every scene feels like a hokey Movie Moment, complete with earnest dialogue that sounds much too rehearsed:
Confused Little Kid (observing an African-American child sitting by himself
in a crowded restaurant): "Padre? Padre? Why is that child sitting
Padre: "Well, my son...some people do not believe we are all God's children."
That's pretty much the level of earnestness the entire film is pitched at. Obviously, the film's heart is in the right place, but the road to weak filmmaking is paved with good intentions. It's a nice movie, but it has not a single surprise to offer over the course of its too-padded 117 minutes. Things get particularly clumsy when the film is dealing with the racism the team confronts, as the second act of The Perfect Game veers dangerously close to self-parody with material that ought to be sobering, moving stuff. Two bigoted police offers who appear midway through the film seem to have wandered onto the set from an episode of Hee-Haw.
The actors do what they can with the material. Clifton Collins, Jr. and Cheech Marin (From Dusk Till Dawn) in particular are appealingly understated in a film that severely lacks that quality otherwise. Character actors like Bruce McGill (Matchstick Men), David Koechner (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), and Lou Gossett, Jr. (Iron Eagle) have fun chewing on a handful of scenes. The kids are all likable enough, though they do get a little precocious from time to time. The only bad performance comes from Emilie de Raven (Lost), who's way out of her element attempting to depict a fast-talking, quick-witted Rosalind Russell-esque newspaper gal.
The Perfect Game arrives on Blu-ray sporting a decent enough 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. The film's color palette shifts a bit from time to time, as on some occasions it veers towards bright family film design and on others it drifts into sepia-toned nostalgia. There are also a few moments that blend color and black-and-white footage to interesting (if typical) effect. The level of detail is solid enough throughout despite a few moments of softness. Audio is solid, highlighted by a flavorful score from Bill Conti (a guy who we hear far too little from these days). Dialogue is clean and clear and the baseball scenes are immersive. The only unfortunate move is the smattering of anachronistic rock tunes that detract from the film's period atmosphere (I love Dr. John and all, but c'mon). Extras include a commentary with Dear, a brief making-of featurette, a trailer, and a Little League PSA.
Hey, it's got a positive message and it's family-friendly. If that's what you want, that's what you get. If you love this sort of thing, you won't be disappointed. Still, The Perfect Game definitely won't be remembered as one of the more well-crafted, compelling films of its genre. Too bad.
Guilty, but don't let that stop you if this sounds like the sort of thing you're looking for.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG