Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Rookie

A Movie Review by Zinta Aistars

# Starring: Dennis Quaid, Angus T. Jones
# Director: John Lee Hancock
# Format: Color, Closed-captioned, Dolby
# Rated: G
# Studio: Buena Vista Home Vid
# DVD Release Date: January 25, 2005
# $14.99

Straight Pitch:

I'm not much of a sports fan, and yet, quite a few of my favorite movies, interestingly enough, are sports movies. It was in watching Rookie that I realized why, as I listened to Jim Morris, played by Dennis Quaid, talk about his dreams. Sports movies are often less about sports and more about beating the odds to capture a dream held close to the heart. These are stories of hope, courage, determination, persistence, and a passion for doing what one is meant to do.

In line with this, sports movies are fequently devoid of special effects. No glitz. No flashy distraction. Just good down to earth stories with a lot of heart.

Rookie ranks with perhaps the top ten, if not top five, of my favorite movies. All the elements of a good plot are here. It doesn't hurt that the story is a true one, based on Jim Morris, as told in his own words, about how he came to play for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays as an "old man."

The story begins with the boy, whose military, emotionally distant father is completely insensitive to his son's need for his attention and support. Boy loves baseball, with a passion, but father moves the family from town to town in pursuit of his military career, and he runs his family in a similarly military manner: cold, commanding, no arguments. From time to time, Jim makes an effort to solicit his father's approval, but it is not forthcoming.

The final military post brings the family to a small town in Texas, and it seems no one there cares about baseball. What the boy hasn't found in his father, he appears to find in the warm heart of a store owner who may not carry "baseball stuff" among his merchandise, but, seeing the crestfallen and lonely boy's face at this news, immediately brings out a catalog with promises of ordering all things baseball.

The story jumps to the adult Morris. He has a family, a wife who is the good woman behind the good man, two small children. His young son, Hunter, played by Angus T. Jones (today of "Two and a Half Men" fame), is something of a star in this movie, too, tugging at the heartstrings as he portrays how a son looks to his father to be his hero. Morris has become a high school science teacher who coaches the school baseball team, the Owls. His dreams, it seems, are long over. He had been on the brink of playing professional baseball, but injuries kept him on the sidelines, and he quit his dream before it was his. Morris's bitterness with his father's lack of support is still very much alive in the adult son, and there are great scenes between the man and his elderly father (played by Brian Cox), who with age has mellowed, has been divorced by his wife, lives alone, and still has no understanding about the sport, but at last senses he has not been much of a dad.

When the Owls do poorly on the field, coach Morris chides them on not playing with enough passion. He talks to them about not giving up. I cheered out loud, yes!, when his team called him on his own hypocrisy. They have seen him pitch, they know their coach not only still has his good arm, they know he still aches to follow his dream, even if he has lost courage. A deal is struck. They will win their tournament, but then their coach must go to the try-outs.

They win the tournament.

It's an absolutely wonderful scene as Morris struggles with his children while going to the try-outs. He hasn't had the guts to tell his wife about this "foolish" settling of a deal, and he ends up with a crying baby in a stroller, his small son cheering from the back of a pickup truck, while other athletes chuckle at the "old man" trying to pitch. Until he throws the pitch. He clocks 98 miles per hour.

And it's a beautiful thing, how Morris continues to struggle with doubts and is torn between following his old dream and being with the family he so loves. He goes back and forth more than once. He even asks his father for advice--who gives him advice he doesn't want to hear. At one point, his wife withholds her support. This is madness, and the family can't live on $600 a month while daddy plays ball. But when she realizes how much her son Hunter looks up to his father, how important it is to not only hear the good advice of a father, but to see that father as a role model who shows the courage and determination to face his fears and give his dream a try, well, she gives in. She not only gives in, she becomes her husband's biggest fan, except perhaps Hunter.

Morris ends up playing major league baseball. The hard pursuit comes to its most satisfying end. Yes, Hunter, your daddy is a hero. And Morris, pitching his first major league game, finally makes peace with his father. Who still may not understand baseball. But who is finally starting to understand about being a father.

Six stars. Do not miss.

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