Paramount // 2004 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 7th, 2005
Screw you, Ty Cobb.
Matthew Modine (Any Given Sunday) plays Honus Wagner, the old-old-old-school baseball player most known for his cigarette baseball card, one of the rarest and most valuable sports collectibles on the market. This family-oriented concoction of romance, sports film, and period piece seeks to add itself to the pantheon of inspiring baseball movies, but is it too saccharine to gain admittance?
Poor Joe Stoshack (Mark Rendall). He's an 11-year-old boy who's got nothing going right with his life these days. His family is on the verge of bankruptcy, his little sister annoys the heck out of him, and worst of all, he sucks at baseball. Known as a grade-A choker in Little League, Joe has made a living striking out in close situations.
His only solace comes from earning small amounts of money doing odd jobs for Mrs. Young, an elderly woman who lives down the road. One day, while he's cleaning out her garage, he makes a spectacular find: an original 1909 Honus Wagner tobacco card, the most valuable sports card in existence. Suddenly, all of Joe's problems vanish. The hundreds of thousands of dollars the card will bring in will easily spring the Stoshack family from financial ruin.
But a crisis of conscience hits Joe, and when he retreats to the ballpark to think about giving the card back to Mrs. Young, an amazing thing happens -- he's suddenly transported back to the early 1900s, when Wagner dominated the sport of baseball.
Now Joe, suddenly a lot older (Shawn Hatosy), finds himself face to face with Wagner (Modine) himself. Joe seeks to get the card signed by Wagner to increase the value, but is soon drawn into Wagner's life, his relationship with his fiancée Mandy (Kristin Davis, Sex and the City), and his efforts to bag a World Series title and defeat the dark lord of evil -- Ty Cobb!
The Winning Season is as family-friendly a movie you can get. It is 100% inoffensive fantasy. And while there are some truly cornball moments, as well as some goofy acting choices, I'd be hard pressed not to recommend this flick to families.
Let's start with what works. Though the whole time-travel gimmick is both unexplained and odd (why exactly does Joe age ten years when he goes back in time?), it's just a plot device you grin and accept. You know, kind of like the whole ethereal exhortations to build a ballpark in Iowa from Field of Dreams. It's all very fantastic, but this is fantasy, so how about we just move on.
The film hits it stride when Joe lands in the 1900s. The filmmakers have done an admirable job replicating an America just north of the turn of the century. The costuming and set design all look fine, and through some clever use of nonintrusive CGI, the architecture and ball stadiums have been recreated well. My only complaint: Everything looks so clean. People's clothes are spotless and neatly pressed, and the buildings and streets look to hardly have any wear on them at all.
Again, fantasy. The acting is gleefully black-and-white melodramatic. Modine plays Wagner as a squeaky-clean superman, Davis's Mandy is a girl loopy in love, though her affluent parents -- surprise! -- don't want her cavorting with a ball player, and Rendall as the wide-eyed, tormented younger Joe far outshines his counterpart Hatosy, who tries to ape Tom Hanks in Big but instead ends up producing a character that comes across as suffering from profound mental retardation. My favorite, though, is William Lee Scott, who seems to have patterned his Ty Cobb after Darth Vader.
The thrust of the film is Joe's friendship with Honus and how his commitment to his family places him in a moral quandary. The love story between Honus and Mandy takes a back seat, which is probably a good thing because there's nothing original at all to it. And for a film about baseball, there isn't a lot of baseball happening. None of the big game set pieces succeed in building that tension so key to sports movies. So that's a pretty big bummer. First and foremost, this is a movie about hanging out with an awesome ball player, and in that area The Winning Season works.
This disc is threadbare in its offerings. The full-frame picture looks washed out and oversaturated with light. Some spots are better than others, particularly the ball game scenes, but overall this is a subpar transfer. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track works well enough, though it's a shame there's no 5.1 track; sports movies greatly benefit from discrete use of the surrounds, and The Winning Season is no exception. As for extras -- swing and a miss.
The Winning Season is as cheesy as a cheddar-drenched chili dog at Fenway, but for a family looking for an easygoing fantasy film with a nice amount of effective moments, it should do the trick.
Not guilty. Ty Cobb is sentenced to return to the dark nether regions of the demonic underworld from whence he came!
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated