Judge Joel Pearce doesn't shut up, he grows up. And when he looks at you, he throws up.
Where were you…in the summer of 1980?
It's a familiar story. In the summer of 1980, Joe (Soren Fulton, South of Peco) finds himself trapped between his parents and his best friend. Tiger (Matthew Borish, Hack) is a troublemaker, obsessed with the murder of his brother. The two friends hang out with Chris (Sam Semenza, one episode of The Sopranos), a loud, fat kid who exists solely for comic relief. The three of them escape baseball camp when Joe learns that his parents are taking a secret trip without him. They need to get to Philadelphia fast, but that won't be easy.
I've been spending the last 24 hours of my life trying to like Rounding First despite its many weaknesses. It was made on a very low budget and features few recognizable faces. Its makers didn't have the luxury of typical Hollywood shooting schedule. Writer/director Jim Fleigner couldn't afford to hire a team of script fixers at the last minute. When test audiences came away cold, they had to try and fix the film with the footage they had, instead of turning to expensive reshoots. These limitations make me want to side with the underdog that is Rounding First. I like it when no-name filmmakers come out of nowhere and deliver better films than the big studios. I want to write that I can see what Fleigner was trying to accomplish, that a heart of gold shines through the countless problems in this film, but that wouldn't be doing a service to anyone—especially to those of you who turn to our reviews to make viewing or purchasing decisions. The truth is, an independently-produced stinker is just as painful to sit through as a big-budget Hollywood disaster. And, no matter Jim Fleigner's intent, Rounding First is a stinker.
The problems begin with a hackneyed script that rips off countless other coming of age films. The outcome is painfully obvious, and anyone who has seen a few teen flicks will be able to see it coming from a mile off. The dialogue does recall what it's like to be a 12-year-old boy, but not in the charming way that Stand By Me (Rounding First's most obvious influence) captured what it's like to take your first bold steps into the world. The biggest problem is with the young bank robber that picks up the boys and acts even younger than they are. At worst, it teaches boys to trust strangers so long as they promise candy and act like your friend. At best, it's an awkward device to get the boys closer to their destination, while tossing in a few generic lines about friendship and loyalty.
The performances aren't much better. It takes a rare director to draw great performances out of young actors, and Fleigner cannot be added to that short list. All three of the young actors have moments that work, but their dialogue sounds painfully rehearsed. Clever lines fall apart as the boys stumble over them with terrible timing. The adult performances aren't much better. From the stereotypical drunk cop dad to the robber's ping-pong switches between childishness and sage wisdom, these are sad shadows of stereotypical characters, and each has been created so much better in the past.
My complaints with the film are summed up best through a minor spoiler. Rounding First opens with a sequence showing the arrival of Joe's brother, who is then suddenly shot by Tiger's dad. The film then flashes back to the start of the story, working towards that violent, fated moment. Fleigner explains in his commentary that this scene was added to the beginning to satisfy the wishes of a test audience that found the opening emotionally flat. To finally arrive to that sequence again only to learn that it is a dream sequence makes it one of the cheapest, most underhanded film openings in movie history. If Fleigner was as interested in telling a good story as he was in sacrificing his creative vision for a few tickets, he might be able to make a good film. This, I'm afraid, is not that film.
The DVD is acceptable considering the nature of the film. The image is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, and has good detail and color. The stereo track delivers what is needed. The music doesn't overwhelm the action and the voices are always clear. Fleigner has provided a commentary track, but it gets dry quickly as he discusses locations and basic film theory without much enthusiasm. There are several deleted scenes as well, too terrible to discuss here.
I wish I could recommend Rounding First. It's the kind of film that often proves that a group of heartfelt newcomers to the industry can create a film more touching than hardened professionals with millions of dollars. This film, however, is nothing more than a shallow attempt to cash in on the success of great films that have come before. You can check it out if you want, I suppose, but I recommend revisiting Stand By Me instead.
Rounding First isn't ready to grow up. You're grounded!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Regal Entertainment Group
• Director Commentary
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