The Rookie
review by Dan Lybarger, 5 April 2002

Jim Morris was a kid who dreamed of playing baseball in the major leagues and actually did it for two seasons. Few athletes reach such lofty heights and even fewer do so when they've reached thirty-five. In most other lines of work, that's the age when most begin to hit their strides. But the punishment that playing sports takes on a body, sends baseball players into retirement well before they've become senior citizens. Morris could throw a ninety-eight-mile-an-hour fastball at an age when most ballplayers are long gone from the game.

In The Rookie, first-time director John Lee Hancock, who also wrote the scripts for Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, treats Morris's career like a kind of visual folk tale. He and screenwriter Mark Rich (Finding Forrester) play up the larger-than-life elements of Morris's quest, making the unlikely nature of tale seem more palatable.

The movie opens with a sepia-tinged prologue in which two nuns discover that prayer can make seemingly foolish decisions, like loaning money to a wildcat oil driller, can later turn into acts of providence.

Similarly, young baseball enthusiast Jim Morris (played as a child by Trevor Morgan) devotes considerable energy to baseball even though his family is never in one place long enough for Jim to join a team. Naturally, his dad (played by the redoubtable Brian Cox), a Navy man with little time for sports, wants the lad to try more obviously practical pursuits. As Jim gets older, he and his family move to a small Texas town ironically named Big Lake where baseball is almost non-existent. Even Jim's arm betrays him. Some injuries prevent him from ever advancing beyond the minor leagues.

As an adult, Jim (now played by Dennis Quaid) has abandoned his childhood fantasies completely. He's now teaching high school science classes and has married a guidance counselor named Lorrie (Australian actress Rachel Griffiths). With three kids of his own, the only time Jim has for baseball is for coaching a fairly sorry team at his school. Unbeknownst to Jim, years of keeping himself in shape and off the pitcher's mound have left him with an arm that can toss lightning.

In the heart of football country, the only beings willing to attend the baseball diamond are the deer that graze on the outfield at night. The team's performance doesn't help. The kids, however, notice the heat that's left in Jim's arm, so they make a bet with Jim that if they can make the state finals, he will try out for the majors.

Both events come to pass, and Hancock and Rich somehow manage to keep things interesting. It helps that movie readily acknowledges the difficulties that a thirtysomething player would have in the minors. Jim may be in better condition than his younger peers, but he has far more obligations than they do. AA ballplayers, unlike their brethren in the majors, earn wages more akin to a fry cook. The movie also, thankfully, depicts Morris' home life in an unflinching manner. Jim's family is happy that he can still intimidate on the mound, but they can't decide if his efforts to make the pros are brave or foolish.

There are a fair amount of cornball touches here and there (do we really need to hear the ball go "whoosh" every time Jim throws it?), but Quaid's performance proves to be a solid anchor. He might be a good decade older than Morris was at the time, but he does look convincing on the mound. As he has matured, a look of resignation has accompanied his trademark grin. This diffidence gives The Rookie a dramatic weight it wouldn't have had otherwise.

Ron Shelton, the writer-director behind the classic baseball flick, Bull Durham, stated that in order to for a sports movie to work, the cameras have to be able to go where a TV network crew can't. Because The Rookie manages to go deep inside  Jim Morris's heart, the inevitable clichés don't seem like that much of a problem.

Directed by:
John Lee Hancock

Dennis Quaid
Rachel Griffiths
Trevor Morgan
Brian Cox

Written by:
Mark Rich

G - General Audiences
All Ages Admitted.





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