September 14, 2006

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Everybody's Hero (G)
A boy and his talking baseball go on a quest to find and return Babe Ruth’s talking bat in Everyone’s Hero, a film that is best summed up by its director’s credit, which goes to the late Christopher Reeve.

I’m not sure why his name and the movie’s waving of it so irks me. Perhaps it is because someone with Reeve’s career deserves to be remembered for so much more than this limp kiddie flick. Or perhaps it’s because the overuse of his name makes me feel like the film is trying to bully me into feeling sympathy for it. Or perhaps because that kind of cloying move is so perfectly representative of the syrupy layer of crud that sticks, like evaporated soda on a theater floor, to every scene in this film.

Like every bad kids’ movie, Everyone’s Hero begins by making you feel sorry for its protagonist and then kicking him again while he’s down. Yankee Irving (voice of Jake T. Austin) loves baseball with that pure enthusiasm that exists only in Ken Burns documentaries and Bazooka-scented hazy memories. And yet, a little guy with lousy aim, he’s picked last for the sandlot teams and then proves his pick-last-ness by failing to ever hit a ball or at least not swing at it so he can be walked. Aw, gosh, his character’s posture says, as he mopes home for dinner. The one bright spot in his day? When he finds Screwy (Rob Reiner), the talking baseball in the empty sandlot. Screwy is a foul ball who landed in the lot outside Yankee stadium and has given up on life, or whatever an anthropomorphic piece of sports equipment calls his existence.

But his heart is lifted when he goes to take dinner to his dad (Mandy Patinkin), a security guard at Yankee Stadium. His dad lets him get a peek at the team’s locker room and, in a stunning show of poor judgment, leaves his son gazing at Babe Ruth’s bat (the movie takes place during the height of Babe’s fame) telling him not to touch anything and to lock up when he’s done.

Poor Yankee’s dad.

In Yankee’s defense, he doesn’t actually get a chance to break anything before a squirrelly looking guy dressed as a security guard shows up and shoos him off. Later, when a police officer shows up at the family home to tell them that Babe Ruth’s bat is gone and the dad is fired, our little Yankee fan realizes that he’s seen that security guard before. It’s Lefty Maginnis (William H. Macy), a Cubs pitcher. Yankee quickly puts together that Lefty has stolen Babe’s bat, Darlin’ (Whoopi Goldberg, yep, the bat talks too), in hopes of killing Ruth’s chance at scoring big during the upcoming World Series.

Yankee’s all broken up that his dad has lost his job and decides, with the kind of spunky aplomb that only a cartoon kid has, to go after Darlin’. Getting the bat proves an easy task, but staying ahead of Lefty and attempting to make the long trip to Chicago from New York to get the Babe his bat proves a trickier task. Along the way, he meets some loveable bums and makes friends with a girl whose dad is a star in the Negro Leagues.

So, if you’re an 8-year-old modern kid, I’m guessing your questions about this movie go like this: who is Babe Ruth? Why is that ball talking but not all the balls? What does Darlin’ the bat have a Southern accent if she’s supposed to be from Greece? What are the Negro Leagues? Why do those boring Randy-Newman-knock-off songs play every time there’s a break in dialogue?
OK, that last question is probably not an average 8-year-old’s question but it is a question that I have. I’m also curious about all the aforementioned cultural references. Though these things are perhaps as natural as Jimmy Neutron references to a short-pants-wearing kid from the 1920s, I gotta wonder how many 2006-grade-schoolers are hand-in-baseball-glove with knowledge of the sultan of swat.

Or maybe none of the strange, historically questionable facts that I think could be a hurdle to a kid getting into this movie will actually matter. Maybe this movie will work with a very specific audience of 7- to 10-year-old boys (there’s a bit too much talking, I would think, for smaller kids and there are some scenes with a girl but I doubt enough to keep girl audience members interested) who have a high tolerance for lousy music and occasional shmaltz. Maybe the occasional fart joke and wacky chase scene will do it for those boys and, though their parents shift in seats and long for cocktails and magazines, those kids will be thoroughly entertained. Having been in the position of frantically reassuring a bored 5-year-old that yes, the movie we’re watching will be funny again and yes it is almost over, I hope for the sake of fellow weak-cartoon-suffers that their little audience members will in fact be entertained. I hope so, but I doubt it. C+

— Amy Diaz


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