Hardball -- ** (out of 5) (2001)
Cast: Keanu Reeves, DIane Lane, D.B. Sweeney, Andre Morgan, Reginald McKinley
Directed By Brian Robbins
I've often wondered if the TV cartoon SOUTH PARK were to ever be filmed as live action if it's millions of fans would still find it funny without the cute cartoon kids using foul language. HARDBALL allows me to finally see for myself. Much of the humor derives from young inner-city African American children running off at the mouth with vulgarities not usually associated with children in films (though it's probably closer to the reality). Unfortunately, my tolerance with this sort of thing is rather thin, so I did not find HARDBALL particularly funny. But then again, it isn't a comedy per se. It's a...well, I'm not sure what it is...it's either a comedy that plays like a drama due to a lack of laughs, or it's a drama that plays like a comedy due to an inability for most viewers to take it seriously.
Keanu Reeves plays a Chicago loser, who borrows money from friends in order to feed his chronic gambling habit. When he gets himself in a lot of trouble with the sharkies, he takes an offer to coach an inner city little league baseball team in order to try to recoup some of the money to pay his large debts.
In order for the film to properly work, you would have to find an actor who might be cute playing along with young kids. Keanu Reeves just doesn't have what it takes, because even if there are some women who find him cute, he isn't cuddly cute like, say, Walter Matthau when he turned in the same kind of role in THE BAD NEWS BEARS. I will admit, the kids in HARDBALL are likeable enough, if not for the potty mouths, and with a better script the film could have been pleasant enough to recommend. DIane Lane provides the needless love interest, and her role is not only a waste of time, but actually weakens the film's overall impact since she seems unbelievable as a "ghetto school teacher".
You ask, "What about the baseball action?" Well, I will just say that these kids know how to play like pros, despite the fact that they have a coach with no baseball experience, and who never are seen working on the fundamentals of the game. In fact, after this film you'd think that all that is required to be a great baseball player is having a spiffy looking uniform.
So let's check the score card... As a comedy? Strike one. A drama? Strike two. As a romance? Strike threeeeee...yer out! It's only funny moments come from some seriously cheesy feel-good theatrics that had me doubled over just from the embarrassment. Saccharine-sweet and about as healthy, HARDBALL is about as fun as a Nolan Ryan heater to the crotch.
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