Jim Morris is a Texas high school chemistry teacher and coach of the school's baseball team. He's always loved baseball and as a way of motivating his players, he agrees to go to a professional try-out if they win the championship. He once had aspirations to be a professional baseball player but an injury brought that to an end. Sure enough, the 39 year-old father of three finds himself at a camp for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and he somehow seems to have regained his pitching arm, easily throwing a 98 mph fastball. Signed to a contract, he toils in the minor leagues while his supportive wife stays home raising their children. He soon finds himself called up to the big club and pitching for Tampa which is in Texas playing the Rangers. Based on a true story. Written by
When women feel the need for a `good cry' at the movies, they usually seek out some tragic tale of unrequited love to do the trick. When men feel the same need, they turn to a film about baseball. And what could be more guaranteed to convert a grown man into a shamelessly blubbering fool than a true-life account of a middle-aged baseball fanatic who gets to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the major leagues? How many men can fail to identify with that? Indeed, most men may not want to admit this, but the baseball movie genre has, in many ways, become the male equivalent of that category of film known, derisively by many men, as the `chick flick,' for they both serve roughly the same purpose. Apparently, even we stoic males have the need to clear out the tear ducts every now and then - for purely medical reasons of course.
Because baseball has long enjoyed the reputation of being `America's National Pastime,' moviemakers have often treated it less as a sport than as an iconic institution. From `Pride of the Yankees' to `Brian's Song' to `Bang the Drum Slowly' to `The Natural' to `Field of Dreams,' movies about baseball have been so concerned with all the mythic implications of the sport that they have rarely managed to convey the sense of carefree fun that comes along with it (`Bull Durham' has been one of the few obvious exceptions to this rule). The tone in these films is sometimes so sentimental and so reverential that one begins to view baseball more as a type of pseudo religion - with the stadium functioning as a sort of temple where people gather to participate in a communal spiritual experience - than as a form of entertainment.
`The Rookie' certainly falls into this category, yet the film itself has such an air of comforting familiarity about it that it manages to override much of the conventionality of the storyline. Although we always know where the movie is headed, the easy assuredness with which it charts its course keeps us interested and absorbed for most of the duration. The majority of the credit goes to Dennis Quaid who, as Jim Morris, the high-school-teacher-turned-big-league-ballplayer, does a first rate job portraying a man torn between responsibility to his family and this golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of realizing a childhood dream. Quaid underplays the role so nicely that we never doubt for a moment the authenticity of all we are seeing on screen. The screenplay by Mike Rich, though filled with overly familiar scenes and characters, nevertheless manages to avoid many of the potential lapses into overwrought melodrama that could conceivably have robbed it of much of its credibility (the dark hints early on in the film as to Morris' problematic physical condition happily never come to fruition). Director John Lee Hancock establishes an almost elegiac tone, pacing the film in such a way as to match the unhectic lifestyle of both Morris and the small Texas town in which he lives.
`The Rookie,' like Disney's previous sports opus `Remember the Titans,' eschews violence, sexuality and bad language completely, thereby garnering the film a `G' rating and making it first class entertainment for the entire family. There may be nothing much new in it for adults, but `The Rookie' has the skill to make what was old seem somehow new again. Not unlike what happens to the hero himself in fact.
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