If you love the sound of a 90m.p.h. pitch hitting the leather of a catcher’s mitt, you may well love “The Rookie.”

THE ROOKIE

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


                If you love the sound of a 90m.p.h. pitch hitting the leather of a catcher’s mitt, you may well love “The Rookie.”  If that’s not one of your favorite things, then you may be annoyed by the fact that the movie is a tear-soaked, sentimentalized, unrealistic, idealized inspirational message to young and old alike.  But let’s concentrate first on the ball and the glove.

                The movie opens with young Jim Morris (Trevor Morgan) playing his heart out in hometown baseball.  Life is great whenever Jim’s on the ball field, but there’s a problem:  his father is a low level military bureaucrat subject to frequent transfers, and the latest one will take them to Big Lake, Texas, a pebble of a town that has no baseball team.  After a strange, largely unexplained time period in which the boy apparently grew up, had a shot at the major leagues and sustained a bad injury, we meet him again.  Jimmy Morris is now Dennis Quaid, a high school history teacher and baseball coach at Big Lake High School. 

Jimmy has a team, but it’s a small one, and they’re discouraged.  The players extract a promise from their coach:  if they get to the state playoffs, he will try out one more time for the major leagues.  The stage is set for the team to pull together in a soaring drive to the playoffs, and then for a guilt-ridden coach to keep his word.  And don’t forget, Jimmy has a terrific wife Lorrie (Rachel Griffiths) who rolls her eyes a lot but doesn’t otherwise nag him too much about re-injuring himself in a young man’s sport.  Jimmy is a family man, and when he leaves his wife and children for the “strange and wonderful world of minor league baseball,” he suffers.  Suddenly Jimmy is called up to the majors, called to the mound as a relief pitcher for the first time in his home state.  What follows is indeed tear-soaked.     

Rachel Griffiths is commendable in her low-key acting, and Dennis Quaid is earnest and controlled, if a mite glamorous for a whole life spent in Big Lake, Texas.  Angus T. Jones, playing Jimmy’s son, manages to pull off a part that could be intolerably saccharine

 The part of the movie that sticks, however, is that slap of the ball in the glove that sends up a dust cloud every time.  There is a great, if idealized, montage of fine baseball action set against a rollicking pop/rock score.  The movie, especially the early part, catches the Texas desert in a woefully memorable way.  The Morrises’ small ranch house is unadorned, set lightly it seems, with nothing able to grow around it to anchor it to the ground, ready to blow away in the Texas dust.  This is dust country, a way of life for the people who live there.

As the audience filed out, a lanky teenager summed it up, “It’s O.K., but it can’t come close to “Sandlot.”


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