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THE ROOKIE
Widescreen

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez, Brian Cox
Director:  John Lee Hancock
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  127 Minutes
Release Date: 
August 27, 2002 

“Now it's your turn, Coach.”

Film **1/2

Baseball movies have seemingly always had at their heart the concept of the nobility of chasing dreams.  The Rookie is based on the true story of a likeable fellow who did just that.  It's a tale so inspiring, I wish I could have liked the movie more.

Dennis Quaid stars as Jim Morris.  A gifted pitcher as a youngster, Jim got a chance to play in the Milwaukee Brewers' farm system, but shoulder injuries cut his career short before he ever made it to the big leagues. 

Flash forward a good number of years, and Jim is working in West Texas as a high school science teacher and coach of the school baseball team.  He threw regularly during that passing time, for relaxation and for his team's batting practice, and an amazing, almost unthinkable phenomenon occurred:  his pitching arm actually got stronger as he aged instead of softer.

Trying to teach his young men about the value of believing in your dreams, he makes a deal with them:  if they can win the district title, Jim will find an open major league tryout somewhere and give it one more shot.  An unlikely scenario, since his team had only won two games over the past two seasons.

The first half of the movie is one kind of traditional sports film, even though the story is based on truth.  Jim's team got real good real fast, and accomplished what they set out to do.  This paves the way for the second half, where those young kids are all but forgotten save for a few token shots, and a second kind of traditional sports movie begins:  the old athlete chasing after the lost dreams of his youth.

Morris' story is nothing short of astounding…in fact, this is the kind of movie that you'd deem too good to be true if it weren't.  But in September of 1999, he became the major league's oldest rookie when he took the mound for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays against the Texas Rangers in front of his family and many of his hometown friends.

There's nothing wrong with the story at all.  The problem isn't that it's too good to be true, but almost that it's too true to be good.  Morris' real life story on celluloid is sadly just so many familiar sports film clichés strung together.  We cheer for the man, but can't help but feel we've seen it all before, even though when we saw it before, it was fiction and not fact.

Dennis Quaid is the perfect choice to play the lead.  Too many actors would have injected Morris with an all-shucks and golly-gee quality that would have added goofiness to the picture's flaws.  But Quaid brings a sincere earnestness to the role, and a down-to-earth quality that earns our emotional investment.  When he smiles up at his wife and kids from the big league bullpen, it's not just a smile-on-cue.  It's a smile that really reflects the lifetime of dreaming that lead to that one singular moment.

Two final thoughts:  I didn't even notice until after my viewing that the movie was rated G.  I'm grateful.  Though adults might recognize that this is a film that falls short of greatness, it's still the kind of story that will inspire kids, and making this a clean G (I don't recall even a mild swear word uttered) should help to bring it the most ideal audience. 

Secondly, I wouldn't care if I never heard the song “Jump Around” by House of Pain again in another movie for as long as I live.

Video ****

Disney's anamorphic offering here is superb, with the modestly beautiful cinematography by John Schwartzman giving the film a warm, rich look that adds dimension to the West Texas backgrounds.  Colors are natural looking and well contained, and images maintain crisp focus and integrity in both bright and low lit shots.  No grain or compression is apparent, and the level of detail is strong from start to finish.  The title is also available in pan & scan, but a dream this big deserves to be seen only in widescreen glory.  Highest marks.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is more than serviceable, even though the rear stage is mostly dormant.  The music by Carter Burwell is a real plus, utilizing the .1 channel for extra bottom end, and the front stage is quite active (especially with the whooshes of Morris' fastballs).  Dialogue is well rendered, and no noise interferes.

Features ***

The disc contains a terrific 20 minute documentary on the real Jim Morris, including footage from his memorable Major League debut, along with cast and crew interviews.  Three is also a spring training segment that young ball players will like that's hosted by the film's baseball consultant, and is broken down into several specific areas.  Rounding out are 7 deleted scenes introduced by director John Lee Hancock, and a decent running commentary by Hancock and Dennis Quaid together.

Summary:

The Rookie is simply a movie that doesn't quite live up to the story it has to tell.  It's worth seeing just to experience Jim Morris' unfolding dream, but true or not, it just plays like something we've seen done too many times before.