Hardball meets hard laughs in the baseball comedy The Scout!
Baseball has been a multiply recycled theme in movies. Bull Durham, Major League, and For Love Of The Game are just a few movies that have been made about America's favorite pastime. In 1994 director Michael Ritchie (Fletch) gave his contribution in the form of the Albert Brooks / Brendan Fraser comedy The Scout. Also starring Dianne Wiest (Little Man Tate), Lane Smith (Lois & Clark), and crooner Tony Bennett (uh…a bunch of songs to "get some" by), Fox Entertainment pitches a fastball with The Scout on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Al Percolo (Brooks) is a talent scout for the New York Yankees. Unfortunately, his boss (Smith) doesn't like him very much. After finding a star pitcher (Michael Rapaport, Deep Blue Sea) who flakes out his first day on the mound, Al is banished to Mexico where it's assumed he won't fine any baseball, much less any great baseball players.
Enter Steve Nebraska (Fraser), a goofy guy living in a small Mexican town with knack for hitting and pitching. Al meets up with Steve during a game and thinks that he may be his big ticket back into the world of professional sports. Once back in New York, Al signs Steve to the Yankees after showing him off to the big wigs in the stadium. Things for both Steve and Al are looking great, that is until Al discovers that Steve may be a few sticks short of a matchbook. Steve's behaviors start to resemble that of a spoiled 12 year old brat, and with the help of a therapist (Wiest), Al is hoping that he can get Steve ready to play some serious baseball. The only question is, can Steve keep a lid on his eccentric behaviors before he strikes out?
By theory (or genetics) I'm not a huge baseball fan. I've seen the movie Major League and wasn't all that impressed. I've watched Bull Durham and felt that it was no great shakes either. On the whole, I'd rather watch a hockey movie…give me Slap Shot any old day.
However, I am a big Albert Brooks fan, which really balances out The Scout for me. While by no means is The Scout a great movie, it is entertaining. Michael Ritchie has done some very funny films, including the hysterical Chevy Chase vehicle Fletch and the amusing James Woods comedy Diggstown. Obviously, Ritchie knows which way is up when it comes to comedy.
Then again, he did direct Cops and Robbersons. Hmmmm.
The screenplay was written by chuckle inducing Andrew Bergmen (who also penned Fletch, The In-Laws, and the very funny Soapdish), as well as Albert Brooks and Monica Johnson. The Scout includes many funny bits, plus some great zingers that fans of Albert Brooks have come to know and love. However, The Scout is not without its fair share of troubles. The film never rises any higher than mediocre entertainment because we just aren't given enough reasons to care about the characters. While Brooks' paunchy Al plays okay as a stereotypical scout, Fraser's Steve Nebraska is never fully realized or fleshed out. He is a man stuck in a child's world, but the reasons for this are never fully explained (or at least never explained well). Fraser can be a very charismatic actor when given the right material. Gods And Monsters and The Mummy are good examples of his showing off bulging acting chops while being amiable and charming. In The Scout, he comes off as sometimes whiney, often times goofy, but mostly irritating. Brooks' character of Al also suffers, but that's due in part to not enough one-liners. If anyone was going to save this film, it was going to be Brooks (notice the word "was" at use in this sentence), but alas it just wasn't meant to be. Brooks is one of my favorite comedians, and his dead pan delivery of dialogue is about as funny as it gets. Unfortunately, he isn't given enough material here to warrant this a really gut busting comedy. It almost feels as if the script was only 75 percent completed.
In the end, The Scout is not a bad film, just one that feels unfinished. While the script may be lacking, the actors all give their best shots. It's too bad that more couldn't have been done with the characters and the plot—The Scout had real promise, but unfortunately strikes out in the last inning.
The Scout is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While the movie may be only humdrum, this transfer is very good. Fox has done an admirable job of making the colors look sharp and the black levels look nice and solid. While a small amount of edge enhancement and grain were spotted, overall they were kept to a minimum.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround and is only slightly above average. This mix utilizes speakers in many instances (especially during ball game sequences), but lacks the depth of a fine 5.1 mix. Dialogue, effects, and Bill Conti's upbeat music score were all clear with no distortion present. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
Surprisingly, The Scout features a few extra materials that are actually quite good. To start off there are no less than eight TV spots for The Scout, four of which feature Albert Brooks doing some funny shtick about the baseball strike (which happened in 1994 right before the film was released). A featurette is included that is basically promotional but is still relatively interesting to watch. This featurette includes interviews with Brooks, Fraser, Wiest, Tony Bennett, and a very Kris Kristofferson-looking Michael Ritchie. A "Baseball Strike News Wrap" is basically another promo for the film attempting to suck as much mileage out of the baseball strike as possible. This "News Wrap" includes some interviews with a few superstar ball players that are featured in the film, as well as some upbeat music playing in the background. Finally, there's an anamorphic theatrical trailer included for The Scout.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One more fatal flaw of the film is that it tries to get serious on the audience about halfway into the story. Without giving too much away, Steve's "problems" run deeper than just funny antics; he has background troubles that the film tries to shed some light on while still trying to pull laughs out of the characters. In the end, this melding of comedy and drama just doesn't mix very well.
The Scout is entertaining, but don't expect too much when you pop this in your player. I am torn with my review for I so love Albert Brooks, yet this is really the least of all his films (well, next to The Muse. Sports fans may very well get a kick out of this, but comedy fans will be sorely disappointed in the lack of laughs. Either way Fox has done a commendable job on this title.
I'm letting The Scout go free, but just barely…next time it's at bat, bring more laughs!
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