The Rookie (2002)
Baseball has become a popular element of Hollywood lore over the years. Certainly, American football may draw bigger crowds, and pro basketball dominates sneaker advertising everywhere but the simple contest of baseball has an inexplicable, almost mystic appeal with its pastoral roots, deliberate pacing, and focus on individual accomplishments. Movies from The Natural to Field of Dreams to Bull Durham have entered the public consciousness, virtually unrivaled by other sports films, and it's safe to say they are joined by The Rookie (2002), a story of forgotten dreams revived late in life. Dennis Quaid stars as Jim Morris, a science teacher in his mid-thirties who lives a quiet life in west Texas with his wife Lorri (Rachel Griffiths) and three young children. A former minor-league player who abandoned his baseball career due to an injury, Jim coaches his high school baseball team, the Big Lake Owls but to little success. With no standouts on the squad, the team is losing badly, causing Jim to deliver an impromptu speech to his players about the importance of pursuing dreams. The only problem is that the team knows the kind of arm their coach has, since he's smoked a few 98 mph fastballs on them in practice. Thus, with nothing to lose, they bet their coach that they can win the district championship and if they do, he'll have to take his blistering southpaw to a professional tryout and see if he still has what it takes to play with the pros. Based on the true story of Jim Morris, who temporarily left his teaching career when he was 36 to pitch for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, The Rookie has all the elements to become a modern classic that will be watched again and again by baseball fans, middle-aged jocks, and for that matter anybody who ever wanted to accomplish anything after they thought it was too late. As Morris, Dennis Quaid is a solid choice for the part his rugged good looks strike the right note with his athletic physique and weathered complexion, he hurls an authentic fastball like a veteran, and he does a good job of not overselling the material (the sentimental script by Mike Rich doesn't require much assistance at that). All of the supporting players are well-employed, in particular Rachel Griffiths as steadfast wife Lorri Morris and Brian Cox in a subdued turn as Jim's emotionally distant father. Coming in at over two hours, The Rookie may be a bit overlong, particularly as the second half of the film takes us on a pro-ball journey with a finale that doesn't require binoculars to see coming a mile away. But director John Lee Hancock keeps everything in check, allowing the lyrical qualities of the script to shine through most of the schmaltz. And even though the three Morris children are so cute that they could sell a million boxes of sugary breakfast cereal, they also provide some of the film's best comic relief. The Rookie may be formula filmmaking, but there's little to complain about when the formula works so well. Buena Vista's DVD release features a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. Features include a chatty commentary with director Hancock and star Quaid, the featurette "The Inspirational Story of Jim Morris" with a look at the film's real-life subject (20 min.), seven deleted scenes, and "Spring Training Baseball Tips" with a look at pitching, catching, batting, and other essential summertime skills. Keep-case.