Disney // 2002 // 127 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // March 21st, 2008
It's never too late to believe in your dreams.
The Rookie was released in 2002 to some rather nice praise of the cast and was just a plain enjoyable story to just fall into wholeheartedly. And it made over $75 million at the box office to boot. So when it was released on standard definition DVD back in the day, those who liked the film snapped it up accordingly. But the larger question now is, will they do it again on Blu-ray?
Written by Mike Rich (Finding Forrester) and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Alamo), the film is inspired by the real-life events of Jim Morris' (Dennis Quaid, Wyatt Earp) long and amazing journey to the major leagues. A then-prospect for the Milwaukee Brewers, Morris' career was derailed in his twenties by control problems and shoulder surgeries, and he found himself coaching baseball and teaching chemistry at Big Lake High School in Texas. The Big Lake Owls had been frowned upon as a baseball program for years in an area where football is king, and after yet another particularly humiliating loss, Morris challenges the kids to find out if baseball is the thing for them. However, word has spread that Morris might still have some magic left in his arm, so they make a bet with him: if the Owls capture the District Championship, Morris must try out for the major leagues. The Owls eventually do capture the Championship, and Morris' small try out (where he brought his three children with him, and changed the diapers of the youngest child) became something bigger, as his fastball was clocked at 98 miles per hour, which was revelatory for a couple of reasons; the first is that arms throw slower as bodies grow older, and the speed was faster than anything Morris was throwing when he was a prospect. So Morris' dreams at the big time became larger and more tangible than he thought possible.
There's no doubt that when it comes to stories about small town folks overcoming incredible odds to achieve their dreams, this is a story that you can't help but like. I only peripherally recalled the story of Jim Morris when it first occurred, and got a newfound appreciation for it when The Rookie first arrived in 2002, and I think this might be the first time that I've seen it again since then, and I'd forgotten and how nice the film is. The way that Quaid embodies Morris is a bit of a departure for him, and in looking at movies he's done since the 1980s (or as I'd like to call it, his post-rehab period), he's undertaken a physical or emotional transformation for them. Take a look at the period from 1983s The Right Stuff to 1987s Suspect, and you've got a guy who didn't hesitate to be the funny and boyishly cute beefcake of sorts. Most of those films would find him shirtless and flashing that smile of his, and a lot of people would swoon for it. Then, starting with his role as an emaciated Doc Holliday in Wyatt Earp, the sleazy Arnie Metzger in Traffic and the closeted husband Frank in Far From Heaven, Quaid has rather quietly taken on a variety of roles and turned in exceptional performances in some of those films and others. Quaid portrays Morris as a leader of boys, but when the boys try to push him down a road that he paved for them, he finds himself doubting things at many points during the journey, and when the end point of his journey is realized, he finds himself in childlike wonder at his surroundings, helping to reinforce the notion that realizing your dreams, no matter how old you are, gives everyone the same general feeling. That's what I get from Quaid here.
The supporting cast of The Rookie also does its role well. As Jim Morris' wife Lorri, the very Australian Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under) inhabits the typical Texas wife well, and as Quaid later says, "you can tell what county she's from." An unlikely choice as Jim's dad was Brian Cox (Zodiac), but I've gotta tell you it's a slight stroke of genius as the emotionally awkward Jim Sr. A young Jay Hernandez (Hostel) is the predominant baseball player that helps push Coach Morris to be left-handed relief pitcher Morris, and a younger Angus T. Jones (Two and a Half Men) is Jim's son Hunter. Other "hey, it's that guy/gal" faces like Beth Grant (No Country For Old Men), Blue Deckert (Friday Night Lights) and Rick Gonzalez (War of the Worlds) round out a cast of familiar faces, helping to set the tone of a warm and friendly feature as effectively as they possibly can.
The 2.35:1 widescreen presentation for The Rookie is excellent. Using the AVC MPEG-4 codec, the film is really more about using every inch of the aspect ratio with wide shots of the barren North and West Texas landscape, but when the field starts to take shape with growing grass, there is a fairly distinct shade of green, and the images possess quite a bit of depth to them. I didn't see the level of detail in it as opposed to a more recent video offering, but it's still worthy of the upgrade. The PCM soundtrack is workmanlike, though it's not subtle or anything. Most of the dialogue and action is straightforward, though the subwoofer kicks in on the occasional Morris fastball or song that accompanies a montage in the film. It's worth the time.
The extras are even pretty good too and apparently are held over from the standard definition disc. The main bonus is a commentary with Hancock and Quaid that's actually fairly enjoyable. Hancock is pretty active for the most of the piece, and Quaid volunteers information about some things that happened to Morris, along with the occasional joke or two. And yes, the whole "real vs. reel" issue is discussed. Hancock explains and examines shots from time to time and recalls some tiny anecdotes on the production itself, and Quaid seems to talk more only when the focus of the film centers on Morris' quest for the majors. As I indicated earlier, it's an enjoyable track. Following that is a twenty minute real-life look at Morris' journey, with interviews from the man himself, one of his students, the scout who discovered him, and even his mother. It's accompanied by clips of the film, along with some walk-through footage of the actual locations by Rich. As the segments turn to more about the film, the interviews with the cast (well, mainly Hancock and Quaid) are next, but it's a decent piece. Eight deleted scenes follow, totaling about twenty minutes and include Hancock's introduction on each, but they are pretty forgettable, along with some tutorial footage on some baseball fundamentals by one of the film's technical advisors.
Why oh why do filmmakers find it necessary to employ some of the same tricks in storytelling when it comes to Cinderella story sports films? I mean, the film is just too long, and there are two or three songs in it that serve to be mini-montages, and the journey to get to see Jim pitch seems to be 10 minutes too long as well. There's also the introduction of some characters and subplots that could be considered a little on the antagonist side of things, and these are a further inconvenience from the story. It's not a bad film, but it's definitely 20 or even 30 minutes too long, and tries to incorporate a few too many Capra-esque touches in some sequences.
The story of The Rookie is one that might find a little more people rooting for it than you would imagine, strictly because the central figure of the film is a likable guy who's a little bit more mature than one would expect. The performances help frame what is an inspirational story, even if you do have to take a dose of cinematic schmaltz every now and then. The technical qualities are certainly worth the upgrade if you have the standard definition disc and want to know if you should to double-dip, and curious parties should at least give this a rental if they haven't already.
Not guilty, mild reservations aside. The court must excuse itself to go hit fungoes for the rest of the afternoon.
Review content copyright © 2008 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Commentary Track by Director John Lee Hancock and Dennis Quaid
* "Spring Training" Featurette
* "The Inspirational Story of Jim Morris" Featurette
* Four Deleted Scenes
* Official Site
* Original Verdict Review