Thursday, October 2, 2008


Once upon a time Hollywood produced live-action, G-rated movies without foul language, immorality, and gore-splattered violence. These movies neither insulted your intelligence no manipulated your emotions. The heroes differed little from the crowd. They shared the same feelings and bore the same burdens. Since the 1970s, the film industry has pretty much written off G-rated movies for adults. Basically, modern mature audiences demand large doses of embellished realism for their cinematic diet, laced heavily with vile profanity, mattress-thumping sex, and knuckle-bruising fisticuffs. These ingredients constitute the difference between G-rated movies and those rated either PG or PG-13.

Miraculously, director John Lee Hancock, who penned scripts for Clint Eastwood's "A Perfect World" (1993) and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (1997), hits a home run with this G-rated, feel-good, four-bagger of a baseball epic that not only celebrates America's favorite summer time sport, but also extols the competitive spirit of the game. Essentially, "The Rookie" (**** out of ****) resembles the 1984 Robert Redford saga "The Natural" about an old-time slugger who makes a comeback. Unlike "The Natural," "The Rookie" shuns swearing, sex, and violence.

Moreover, rugged Dennis Quaid plays a real-life individual. Jim Morris' autobiography, "The Oldest Rookie: Big-League Dreams from a Small-Town Guy," served as the basis for Mike "Finding Forrester") Rich's unpretentious, Norman Rockwell-style screenplay about white, middle-class aspirations. Morris attained his dream when eh debuted on the mound as a relief pitcher in 1999. Although it doesn't belong in the same league with the inspirational James Stewart classic "The Stratton Story" (1949), "The Rookie" qualifies as the kind of movie that Hollywood rarely makes anymore because audiences find them antiquated.

Hancock and Rich encapsulate their entertaining oddball biography in a halo of mysticism. A wildcat oil prospector convinces two Catholic nuns back in the 1920s to bankroll a West Texas well. Fearing they have blown their bucks on an ill-advised fantasy, the sisters blanket the arid terrain with rose petals and entreat St. Rita 'patron saint of hopeless causes' to intervene. The well gushes! The Town of Big Lake emerges, and roughnecks swat at baseballs when they aren't drilling holes in the terrain. The spirit of baseball oozes from the earth like petroleum. Meanwhile, years later, the U.S. Navy doesn't keep Jim Morris, Sr., (Brian Cos of "Manhunter") and his family in one place long before uprooting them. The constant moving takes a toll on Jim Junior. Jim's dad shows little sympathy and berates baseball.

Nevertheless, Jim has baseball in his blood, enough so that when he accepts a high school chemistry teacher's job in his Texas hometown, he organizes a baseball team. Like the foul-mouthed "Bad News Bears," "The Rookie" chronicles Jim's triumph at turning losers into winners. Morris promises the team if they reach the divisional playoffs, he will try out for a professional baseball team. Predictably, Morris' students maintain their end of the bargain. At age 35, Jim stuns the big league scouts when he hurls fastballs at 98 miles-per-hour! "The Rookie" never fouls out.

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