April 22, 2010

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The Perfect Game (PG)
Little Leaguers fight racism for a chance at the championship in The Perfect Game, a movie that is more well-meaning than successful but is worth a look for baseball fans.

Cesar Faz (Clifton Collins Jr.) is a talented baseball player but he can’t get out of the St. Louis Cardinals locker room (where he’s a towel boy) because this is the 1950s and he’s Mexican. (This movie is based on a true story and frankly my sports knowledge is not nearly good enough to tell you what’s true and what isn’t so let’s just keep the discussion to facts in evidence, with my apologies to the people who know 50-year-old baseball stats by heart.) Tired of the lack of opportunities, he returns to his parents’ hometown of Monterrey, Mexico, where he wallows in misery for a while until Angel Macias (Jake T. Austin), a youngster with a good throwing arm, coaxes him into playing a little catch. Like curmudgeons everywhere, Cesar wants no part of Angel and his friends’ plan to start a Little League team, but at the urging of the local priest, Father Cheech Marin — OK, Father Estaban (but, dude, Cheech!) — the boys create their own dusty field and then give Cesar the sad eyes. Cesar eventually gives in and decides to help them get in shape for the upcoming season. As with underdog movie sports teams everywhere, because these boys of little means but big hearts give it their all, they soon find themselves beating the better-funded rich Mexican team and then heading to el Norte for games against the Americans.

In Texas (and then later Kentucky and elsewhere), the crowd of rednecks heckling the kids always appears to be made up of the same four yokels. And the team gains a hanger-on in Emilie de Ravin, playing a reporter and doing absolutely the worst girl-reporter-in-an-old-timey-movie voice ever. (Jennifer Jason Leigh in Hudsucker Proxy, you say. Oh no, I say, so very much worse. Hilary Swank in Amelia pushed out of the nose — a nose with a bean or two stuffed up it.) This is a movie of bare-bones seats and slammed-down telephones punctuating conversations that make the “the world is changing” gags in John C. Reilly’s Walk Hard look nuanced. And the title “The Perfect Game” does not exactly create a lot of mystery as to where this story is headed.

And yet, aw look at the kids overcoming prejudice and winning games. I know next to nothing about baseball and even less about Little League (other than that when 6-year-olds play, the game seems to stretch into infinity; kids in the outfield regularly sit down or turn around to watch games in the field behind theirs). But there’s a kind of charm to movies like this that helps you get into it even when you’re not a fan.

There are no Oscar contenders here — not for acting, writing or otherwise — but there is a cute little story to snack on when that day’s game gets rained out. B-

Rated PG for some thematic elements. Directed by William Dear and written by W. William Winokur (from his book by the same name), The Perfect Game is an hour and 40 minutes long and distributed in limited release by Lionsgate.