Being a Cubs fan means never giving up hope.
A benign family film, Rookie of the Year is more suited to its intended younger audience than for adults with its kid-centric baseball fantasy tale. Technical quality is good, though this entry in the Fox "Family Feature" line has just a dash of extra content.
Facts of the Case
Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) loves baseball, but when he's not riding the bench for his team, he's making embarrassing mistakes in the field. When Henry breaks his arm trying to catch a baseball, he thinks his summer (and his baseball season) is in ruins. However, when the cast comes off, Henry finds that his arm throws 100+ mph scorchers. When his fantastic talents are noted at a Cubs game, Henry finds himself signed by the Chicago Cubs to boost their anemic attendance and win-loss record.
Nominally under the supervision of screwball pitching coach Phil Brickman (Daniel Stern), Henry gets his real lessons from a reluctant tutor, past-his-prime veteran pitcher Chet Steadman (Gary Busey). Henry becomes quite the crowd favorite even as he dodges the selfish exploitations of his agent/stepdad-wannabe Jack Bradfield (Bruce Altman) and Cubs heir Larry Fisher (Dan Hedaya). As the Cubs inch closer to their dream of playoff glory, Henry faces difficult decisions about his own future, his baseball career, and the friends that fame has pushed away.
Powerful, well-acted films are easy to review, with no end of superlatives to string together to laud the acting, directorial genius, and so forth. Equally easy to review are the worst dregs of cinema, where the pain of sitting through a celluloid abomination drives the victimized reviewer to exact a measure of revenge and warn others to avoid a similar fate. Rookie of the Year is neither of these, so the task of reviewing it is of a different order.
Rookie of the Year tries so very hard to be nice that criticizing it may seem like kicking a puppy. There are no risks taken, nothing is objectionable, and you are left with a movie with appeal primarily to the younger set. This is not to say that it is a bad movie, rather that it is of the lukewarm variety. Kid-friendly movies need not be this sort of bland cheerfulness, but perhaps the combination of a totally unknown scriptwriter, Sam Harper (with no other known credits), and both an actor turned neophyte director (Daniel Stern) and an actor turned neophyte producer (Robert Harper) made this fate inevitable. There are a few genuine chuckles, a nice scene where three major leaguers (Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Pedro Guerrero) strike out at Henry's hands, and some inventive sandlot baseball, but that's about it. However, predictably sleazy agents and management pitted against a saintly struggling single mom and her Boy Scout son (among other well telegraphed plot points) take a great portion of fun back out of the movie.
Child actors can be a very hit or miss affair, but at least Thomas Ian Nicholas (American Pie, American Pie 2, Party of Five) manages to be likeably earnest and not annoying or grating. The same cannot be said for Daniel Stern (Blue Thunder, City Slickers, Home Alone) whose silly Phil Brickman is annoying and stupid rather than slapstick funny as was intended. Of the rest of the cast, the standout positive is the ever hard working Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story, Lethal Weapon, Under Siege). He has the right weathered face and stubborn attitude for his role, so we end up actually caring what happens to him. Finally, though he is uncredited, funnyman John Candy (The Blues Brothers, Stripes, Spaceballs) adds his special comedy talents as the long-suffering Cubs radio man. What a tragedy that he left us so young!
The anamorphic widescreen video is about average in quality. The primary deficiency is that the colors are blah and lack pleasing saturation. Either that, or strange cinematographic choices make the colors less appealing than I would have expected. Just to pick one example, having seen Wrigley Field with my own eyes, I expected it to be far greener than I saw here. On other counts, a clean print and well-controlled digital enhancement artifacting are solid positives.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is appropriate to the modest scale and light comedy of Rookie of the Year. In other words, don't expect to be immersed in the middle of a cheering crowd at Wrigley Field as your subwoofer pounds out the bass. Clarity of the dialogue in the center channel is fair to middling, with the remainder of the sound nearly exclusively in the front soundtrack and giving the .1 channel nothing to do.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The absence of a commentary track and other extensive extras is not entirely unexpected. While the experience of making the film may have been instructive for novice director Daniel Stern, I doubt that such a slight film as Rookie of the Year would have any significant facets to support a more extensive treatment. As it is, you get three theatrical trailers and eight TV spots for Rookie of the Year and a typical PR fluff five-minute featurette.
Rookie of the Year is a decent film for kids, or a mixed kid-adult audience, but avoid it if only adults are the intended viewers. Even as a baseball film Rookie of the Year falls short, particularly when films like Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and others are available. With those points in mind, consider whether you can justify a purchase ($20 list) or a rental.
The Court finds Rookie of the Year an acceptable minor league film, and so orders it sent back down to your local AAA franchise.
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