The Rookie (March 28/02)
Based on the true story of Jim Morris, The Rookie is a throwback. Whereas most family films nowadays tend to utilize rapid-fire pacing and goofy storylines, The Rookie unfolds slowly, allowing us to become involved with the characters. Like the re-release of E.T., this laid-back style may be jarring to some viewers, but rewarding for the rest (patience, as they say, is a virtue).
Dennis Quaid stars as Morris, a middle-aged science teacher who once dreamed of playing in the major leagues until an injury sidelined his pitching career. Now, he's content coaching the school's losing baseball team and raising his young son with his wife. His team sees something in him, though, and offers him a bet - if they make it to the state finals, he has to try out for the majors. Not surprisingly (this is a Disney movie, after all), the team does progress to the finals and Morris must now hold up his end of the bargain. And if you've seen any of the commercials or the trailer for the film, you know the outcome.
The first half of The Rookie, featuring the hijinks of Morris' ragtag bunch of underachievers, is undoubtedly the weakest aspect of the film. It's already a foregone conclusion that Morris is going to successfully try out for the majors, so all this stuff with these cliched kids is essentially filler. It's difficult to care about their quest for victory when we know that their storyline is going to be abandoned in favor of Morris' own quest. But it's entertaining enough (if predictable), in a Bad News Bears/Mighty Ducks sort of way.
But the movie really begins to come alive once Morris starts touring with a minor league team. The film makes it abundantly clear that, were Morris a young kid just starting out, he'd be having the time of his life playing and touring. But since Morris has a wife and son waiting for him at home, we see that it's really not worth it (especially considering the job pays a scant $300 a week, and he's got bills to pay). But when Morris finally does get the call from the majors, the movie becomes one of the most heart-warming feel-good flicks to come along in a while (only last week's re-release of E.T. comes close in that department).
As Morris, Quaid proves that this is the sort of role he was born to play. While he does also excel at dramatic parts, he's got too much charisma to go through an entire movie without flashing that famous smile at least once. And here, he's at the top of his game. Quaid (as Morris) is an exceptionally likable guy - someone who once had a dream, but had to leave it behind when real life came into play. He's someone we want to see succeed, and for a movie like this, that's the most important element. The supporting cast is also good - particularly character actor Brian Cox as Morris' dad - but really, this is Quaid's show.
And indeed, The Rookie is worth checking out if only for Quaid's performance. Non-baseball fans will undoubtedly find some aspect worth clinging onto - whether it's the never-abandon-your-dream philosophy or Morris' affection for his wife and child - and Quaid anchors the whole thing. Here's hoping he'll continue appearing in starring vehicles, rather than accepting tiny supporting parts where he gets shot (Traffic).