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Based on a true story that took place in the spring of 1991, "The Final
Season" is a soggy, inspirational drama about a sports-obsessed town
that plays like a baseball version of "Friday Night Lights" minus the
lights, minus the Friday nights, and minus the quality, that is.
Sean Astin plays Kent Stock, the assistant coach of the Norway Tigers, a team that's won the Iowa state championship nineteen years running, despite the fact that the school has only 101 students and the town itself only 586 citizens. When the dastardly powers-that-be vote to close the school and fire the coach, the far less experienced Stock steps into the breach to lead the team to its twentieth and final state title. Powers Boothe costars as the legendary ex-coach who spends most of his time delivering corny speeches about how baseball has been bery, bery good to him. To add spice to the drama, Michael Angarano is a troubled teen whose recently widowed, work-obsessed father (Tom Arnold) brings him to Norway to live with his grandparents, whereupon the recalcitrant lad becomes a key player on the team and turns into a model citizen.
The simpleminded screenplay by Art D'Allesandro is riddled with stereotypes and clichés, while David Mickey Evans' plodding direction drives what little drama there is in the story straight into the ground. And a likable cast is left high and dry with nothing of substance to work with.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Final Season is like an ugly puppy. If you stand back and really
look at it
sure, you can see that its legs are too short, its body too
long, its eyes bug out a little and it's drooling on the carpet. But if
you let it jump up and lick you in the face, it's just too darn lovable
The movie is about the high school baseball team from Norway, Iowa which won its 19th state championship in 1990 but was facing a school merger that would make 1991 the last year for the school and the team. Sean Astin plays Kent Stock, who took over for legendary coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) to try and lead the team to a 20th state title.
What will strike you most about The Final Season is how obviously in love the filmmakers are with that story and with the small town life in Iowa that gave birth to it. This wasn't a movie anyone made because they thought it would hit it big at the box office or win them any awards or critical praise. This is a film made because people just really wanted to share a story with the rest of the world. Which makes it very odd that they didn't really tell that story. Not the real story, anyway.
The Final Season takes Norway, Iowa and uses it as a backdrop for pretty generic and cliché-filled sports movie, one that could have come from the same copier that's been churning out "underdog fighting against incredible odds" sports movies for decades. The film is always gently fighting with itself. It wants to be about the little guy battling adversity, but that's not the story of the Norway Tigers. The end of Norway baseball was about greatness being thrown away because the world just doesn't have room for it anymore. The filmmakers brush up against that subject, but they either don't know how to really address it or they can't think beyond their own expectations of what a sports movie must be. Instead, they throw in a cliché-filled subplot of a big city kid moving to the country and learning lessons about life. They do try something different by making that big city kid thoroughly unlikeable for most of the movie, until they flip a magic movie switch and try to turn him into sort of the hero.
I say sort of, because the movie never really figures out who its hero really is. Sometimes it's Powers Boothe as the old leader passing down his wisdom, sometimes it's Sean Astin trying to live up to that legend and sometimes it's the big city kid absorbing wholesome Iowa values. It's only the actors giving such strong performances that keeps you involved as the movie plays Musical Heroes.
The performances are the most appealing thing in The Final Season. Boothe radiates gravity like an old-time movie star. Astin proves once again that if he wasn't 3 and 3/4 inches away from technically being a Little Person, he'd be one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood. He has the kind of decent, personable on screen persona that makes you want to watch him. That he can also act is a nice bonus. Unfortunately, the studios seem to only see him as too small for an action hero and not pretty enough for a leading man. I guess there's no one who remembers the passel of films and the boatloads of money that were made with a short, not terribly attractive guy named Mickey Rooney. It's easy to get a Rooney/Judy Garland vibe in those scenes where Astin acts with Rachel Leigh Cook, who herself looks like a beautiful woman who's been briefly exposed to a mad scientist's shrink ray.
Cook does everything she can with the typically thankless girlfriend role. She could have done a lot more as a state official sent to help sell the school merger to the residents of Norway, but the movie deals with the whole merger issue in a shallow, cartoonish fashion. Instead of engaging with the economic and social realities of small town schools and contracting budgets, it turns a Norway school administrator into a Snidely Whiplash-type villain who does bad things because he's a bad person.
I wish the makers of The Final Season had had the courage Sylvester Stallone had when he made the original Rocky. Despite what you may misremember, Rocky wasn't about an underdog overcoming the odds. It was about the degeneration of the American Dream. Rocky was a guy with talent but he never got the opportunity America is supposed to be all about until it was too late for him to do anything with it. Rocky realizes he can't win the fight and make millions of dollars and live happily ever after. All he wants is to be able to look in the mirror and know he's more than just another "bum from the neighborhood". The original Rocky isn't about being a winner. It's about what it means to not be a loser. That's the sort of bold, creative impulse I wish the makers of The Final Season had reached out for.
But they didn't. What they did is give us a pleasant, family-friendly film about good people trying to do something great. It's a lovable, enjoyable movie if you don't look hard at it.
Come on people, it is what it is. Show me some where else in the US this has been done. I would have preferred to see someone else in the roles of Kent Stock and Jim Van Scoyc, someone who actually cared about the roles, but from someone who grew up in this town, it was very nice that anyone even bothered. Evans does a super job with the baseball scenes. Let it be for God's sake. If you hate it, don't watch! If you like it watch away. Someone cared enough to let us have our little moment in the sun. Maybe someday, you will have one of your own. We lived through all the highs and lows of baseball in Norway, and we enjoyed it all. It's really a shame that some of the older fans who were so devoted to the teams through the years, were not here to see it. That's the tragedy. Maybe another movie will come out soon you can focus your venom on.
It's been done before, with reference to virtually every sport:
basketball (Hoosiers and Coach Carter), football (Remember The Titans),
hockey (Miracle and Mystery, Alaska), boxing (Rocky), track and field
(Chariots Of Fire). The list goes on. This is the baseball version of
the "underdog overcomes" formula as the high school baseball team
struggles to overcome adversity in its last season before the school
closes to win another state championship. Yes, it's inspiring. Yes,
it's a true story. All that's true. But the biggest truth? The formula
is getting tired! In this one, the Tigers of the high school in little
Norway, Iowa face not only the above mentioned adversity, but also a
school board that would like them to lose to shut the people up about
the dynasty and all that the team means to the town and, to essentially
sabotage them, hires a former girls volleyball coach to replace the
former legendary coach who led them to title after title. Frankly, it
seemed strange to me that the local school board was so willing to jump
on board with the state to close the school. That whole tension was
where the movie had some potential to break out of the standard formula
but didn't really manage to do it. Where the movie was interesting was
in its analysis of the place of the school in the life of the small
town, and of the implications to the town of closing the school. But
there wasn't enough of that analysis. The focus kept going back to the
baseball team and its final season. (I know, that's the title, that's
the purpose, but that final season wasn't that interesting.) The movie
also completely failed to document the evolution of the team. They won
their first game, then fell apart, then were suddenly a respectable
17-12, then were suddenly playing for the state championship. It never
really seemed clear to me how the team pulled that off.
Basically, this is a tired formula and a rather disappointing movie as a result. 4/10
The underdog story, usually based on true events, is a winning formula
that plays up to the audience and never gets old. It sparks a note of
hope, triumph and determination, and resonates with audiences
worldwide. At least that's what I thought before viewing The Final
Season. Never has an uplifting underdog film been so formulaic, dull,
trite and uninspiring.
Kent Stock (Sean Astin) is invited to assistant coach the last few weeks for the Norway, Iowa high school baseball season, and is thrilled to rejoin his longtime friend and coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe). The state school board decides that, due to costs, it is necessary for the Norway school to be absorbed by the Madison District, thereby ending the Norway baseball team and its 19 years of winning the state championships. When Harvey Makepeace (Marshall Bell) strikes a deal with Scoyoc to allow one more season of baseball provided he retire from coaching, Stock steps up to take over and re-instill pride and determination to the discouraged townsfolk and their heroic baseball team.
Attempting to cash in on the successes of films like We Are Marshall and Invincible, The Final Season has finally forced the underdog film to strike out. Similar to the huge slew of Asian horror films remade for America that slowly dwindled away due to repetitiveness and monotony, The Final Season manages to destroy the bright spirit and winning combination of a crestfallen team paired with an unlikely coach set on taking them to victory.
In general these films are predictable, simply because it's not an underdog film if the main characters don't come from behind to win. But The Final Season takes repetition and generic qualities way past second base. The characters are all recycled versions of substandard cardboard cutouts, and the conflict in the film is pointless. The school isn't being threatened to be shut down it IS being shut down, so the only thing the baseball team struggles for is to go out on top. But that will only glorify a community pastime that is destined for extinction, and no sympathy comes from the real-life town. As evidenced by the final notes in the end credits, Madison High School has never won a state championship, and all of the schools in Iowa combined have never won as many baseball trophies as Norway. Way to rub it in Iowa's face.
And finally, perhaps the most noticeably horrific aspect of The Final Season is its acting. Powers Boothe delivers every line as if he's reading a teleprompter and delivers as much range and emotion as the grass in the outfield. Sean Astin likewise looks as if he was tortured into playing the role of Kent, and Rachael Leigh Cook is laughably cliché. All of the characters and themes are overly preachy and nearly every line of dialogue sounds quoted from cutting room footage from other abominable films. The disgruntled young rebel ball player, Mitch, is unlikable and paltry, and his sudden reformation appears provoked by nothing more than a wink from a cute girl. All in all, The Final Season is a disastrously sub par film, caught trying to steal home plate and embarrassingly tagged out, marking the pleading death of these underdog films.
- Mike Massie (MoviePulse.net)
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