Mark Reviews Movies

THE PERFECT GAME

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: William Dear

Cast: Clifton Collins Jr., Cheech Marin, Jake T. Austin, Moisés Arias, Ryan Ochoa, Carlos Padilla, Jansen Panettiere, Carlos Gómez, Emilie de Ravin, Patricia Manterola, John Cothran, Bruce McGill, Louis Gossett Jr.

MPAA Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

Running Time: 1:58

Release Date: 4/16/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 15, 2010

Team sports dramas like The Perfect Game are inherently dishonest.  They are not about the team.  Some players have their own drama, quirk, and moment to shine, from the pitchers, the precocious, woman-savvy catcher, the coach with a professional baseball secret, and the team's spiritual advisor.  Even the dad of the star pitcher gets his demons and redemptive moment, which means the rich kid with talent whom the rest of the team suspects and the rest of the infield and entirety of the outfield get the shaft.

It's not about the effort of the team but only the individuals who have the potential for drama, comic relief, or whatever other roles the script deems necessary for the appearance of a motley crew that can follow the motions of the underdog story.

The old adage is that there's no "I" in "team," but screenwriter W. William Winokur (adapting his book) might have done more service to this story by finding the "me" in there, especially when the movie whittles the rest of the cast away for a climactic Big Game that is all about one player.

The story (based on a true one, as if anyone needs that information) starts with a prologue in St. Louis, where Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.) has been rejected from entering the majors.  He returns home to Monterrey, Mexico, where he begins working at the local steel plant and takes up drinking.

Lest one believe this is Cesar's story, we're introduced to Fr. Estaban (Cheech Marin), pastor of the local parish who teaches all the kids about his and their favorite pastime, baseball.  He also lays the foundation for the eventual plot point of a pitcher's perfect game—no one gets on base.  Incited by the appearance of the Mexico City Little League and their snazzy uniforms and superior attitude, the kids want to start their own team.

Lest one believe this is Estaban's story, we're introduced to Angel (Jake T. Austin), one of the kids who wants to start the team.  His father (Carlos Gómez) is still reeling over the loss of Angel's older brother and takes out his grief on his surviving son, making sure the boy knows he will never live up to his brother.  Angel finds Cesar sleeping in his shack, learns he used to be part of the St. Louis Cardinals, and asks him to coach.

After some complaining, Cesar agrees, not for any tangible reason except that it's required for his character arc.  Cue the montage, and soon the ragtag team gets its act together and starts the Little League season across the border, where they become a force with which to be reckoned.

There's a lot of half-hearted drama that accompanies the team.  Angel's father issues, Cesar's secretive, shameful past, and Cheech Marin playing a priest in all seriousness are just the beginning.  Cesar also likes a local woman (Patricia Manterola) but is too busy with the team to find time to have dinner with her family.  Luckily for him, his player Mario (Moises Arias) knows all about how to woo women.

No one in Texas is happy seeing a team from across the border winning so many games against their American children, and they have to deal with the casual racism of 1957.  That comes to a head when they see a young African-American player sitting by himself in a diner, and they defy the social customs of the time and sit with him.  Instead of actively dealing with the issue, Winokur is content with paying lip service in the most obvious, ineffective way.

Games are played with little attention, visas come under question, Cesar's old boss (Bruce McGill) returns with a legitimate offer, a sassy local journalist (Emilie de Ravin) begins covering them for no apparent narrative reason, and every player who isn't one of the pitchers has their backstory benched to make way for the important characters on the team.  That and there's a labor strike back home in Monterrey with which to contend.

The script's focus is all over the place, and it surely doesn't help that each uplifting moment of this underdog story feels contrived and cloying, from Estaban's assertion that a found baseball is a sign from above to a family medallion, forgotten about and given just when the player needs a motivational boost.

Strangely, The Perfect Game has an effective sequence near the end, when it finally abandons everything else and concentrates on Angel and the possibility of fulfilling the movie's title.  There's a nice, inspiring story in that moment, a microcosm of what the movie as a whole wants to be and never achieves.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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