Review by Michael Jacobson
Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, D.B. Sweeney, Mike McGlone, Graham
Director: Brian Robbins
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: February 19, 2002
most important thing in life is showing up.”
timing is everything…who knows if I would have liked Hardball better if
I hadn’t so recently screened The Bad News Bears for the first time in
many years and realized that it was the most original and still the best of all
the kids’ sports movies?
Hardball, we have an unlikely, undisciplined adult in trouble becoming
reluctant coach to a group of outcast young kids with questionable talent, and I
couldn’t help but think that not only had I seen this formula many times
before, but I had seen it very recently. Here,
it was supposed to be based on a true story, but one has to assume creative
liberties were taken…if not, life imitated art too closely for my comfort.
Reeves plays Conor O’Neill, a man with a double barreled gambling
problem…he’s hooked, and he’s not very lucky.
Owing a lot of money to a number of bad-tempered bookies, he gets roped
into an offer he can’t refuse…a $500 a week paycheck to coach an inner city
league baseball team.
only is he uninterested in the kids, but the job puts him square in the
projects, where gangs and guns are a reality of life. The kids themselves are, of course, everything we’ve seen
before…there’s the fat kid, the smart kid, the kid that’s always ready to
fight, the kid with the smart mouth, and so on.
Their first on-field excursion is all slapstick and miscues. It doesn’t last very long…which is interesting, because
the kids seem to get pretty good pretty fast, and I don’t remember Conor ever
once actually teaching them anything about baseball!
where the movie falls short as another kids’ sports flick, it picks up points
with a few flashes of courage in their back story. Where they live is horrifically dangerous…they endure the
kind of reality no little kid should have to face, but of course, far too many
DO face in our country. The fear to
even walk home after dark leaves one asthmatic little boy in bad shape.
When Conor walks one of his teammates home and wonders why everyone in
the projects sits on the floor, the kid tells him without batting an eye that
you have to stay lower than the bullets. All
of this accumulates in a fast flash so heartbreakingly tragic that the movie
suddenly grows a sense of merit that it didn’t have before.
enough to make you wonder why the picture didn’t spend more time with these
kids in their daily lives and less with the big game clichés that play not
once, but twice. They are more
interesting than the grownups, but we’re subjected to the usual glut of
attention paid to the coach, and how he becomes a better man by being around the
kids. Oh, and of course, the usual
love story, this time with the boys’ pretty young teacher (Lane).
formula is apparently ironclad and hard to break…even when a picture like this
has something more to say, it chooses to say it too quickly because the pattern
doesn’t allow for too many deviances. Hardball
is not a bad film, but it definitely had what it took to be so much more,
and its small flashes of courage aren’t enough to dismiss the fact that for
the most part, it chose the easy way out.
is a quality anamorphic offering from Paramount, boasting good, natural coloring
throughout and strong image integrity, even in darker scenes.
Most of the definition is sharp, with only one or two shots showing a tad
softness, mostly in barroom lighting. Tones
are natural looking and well contained, with no bleeding, distortions, or undue
grain to mar the presentation. A
very good effort overall.
5.1 soundtrack makes ambient uses of the front and rear stages for effect, such
as crowd noises or simple outdoor play, where background noises come lightly
from different directions. The
musical score with rap songs deliver some of the dynamic range and most of the
punch to the subwoofer. Considering
the subject matter, it’s an audio track that is more than serviceable.
disc includes a commentary track from director Brian Robbins and writer John
Gatins. It starts out a little
sparsely and unpromising—they even refer to Conor as “the Keanu Reeves
character”—but it gets better as it goes along, with some interesting
stories about both the stars and the kids in the movie.
There is also a music video for “Hardball” by Lil Bow Wow, Lil’
Wayne, Lil’ Zane and Sammie, three deleted scenes, a short promotional
featurette, plus the original trailer.