Friday, March 29, 2002
If there's a near fatal flaw to Disney's "The Rookie," it's that the film takes a timing cue from its real-life subject, an average guy finally realizing his major-league dream when he's well on in years.
Both the life of Jim Morris and the film inspired by his journey have big payoffs. But they're a long time coming, and that's a problem for a movie catering to family audiences, for whom two-hours-plus may be too much when a brisk choice such as "Ice Age" is playing in the next theater.
Director John Lee Hancock overplays the buildup to Morris' second chance, devoting two-thirds of the movie to a passably engaging story of high school underachievers whom Morris coaches.
The film brings on the heat late in the game, though, with a gooey but rousing climax that will make many people forget ï¿½ or at least forgive ï¿½ the 90 minutes of bench-warming it's taken to reach it.
Though a decade older than Morris was when he entered the major leagues, Dennis Quaid ably takes to the mound as the pitcher whose fastball somehow improves with age.
After an introduction establishing Morris' childhood love for the game, his catapult of an arm and his shaky relationship with his emotionally distant father (Brian Cox), "The Rookie" skips ahead to 1999.
In his mid-30s, Morris works as a science teacher in the dusty Texas town where he spent much of his youth and coaches a hapless baseball team of unmotivated teens.
The energy and humor of the final third of "The Rookie" makes you wish Hancock and screenwriter Mike Rich had compacted the goats-to-champions coaching part and expanded on the real Cinderella story of Morris' professional triumph.
Morris ultimately lasted two partial seasons in the majors, and the film's rendering of his minor-league struggle is so enjoyable you want to see more of that and less of the everyday life preceding it.
If this were a fictional tale, "The Rookie" would be beyond belief. But based on a recent, well-publicized story, the film does have truly inspiring moments.