Guide to Baseball Films: The 2000s
- 61*. (2001) Dir. Billy Crystal. Friends and roommates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle challenge the single-season home run record.
One of the better historically-based sport films, well-cast and featuring loving period detail.
- Bad News Bears. (2005) Dir. Richard Linklater. A broken-down minor-league pitcher is given charge of an impossibly bad youth-league team, and after a few false starts turns them into the terrors of their league.
Remake of The Bad News Bears (1976). The formula is by now so well-worn that the remake can barely keep forward momentum; the action reduces to a series of one-liners wandering in a plot desert. Billy Bob Thornton as the coach can't match the end-of-his-tether malaise of Walter Matthau's original performance, and instead offers a certain insincere glibness. Features one of the duller and more protracted Big Game sequences in baseball film history.
- Battlefield Baseball. (Jigoku kôshien, 2003) Dir. Yudai Yamaguchi. A high-school team, literally killed by their archrivals on the ballfield, finds a savior with an unbeatable pitch.
I'm going to star this one as undeniably original and genuinely funny in its own manic way, but it's not for all tastes or even most. A live-action version of a Japanese manga comic, the kind that are more frequently made into anime films, this one spoofs sport-film conventions in a hit-or-miss fashion.
- Fever Pitch. (2005) Dir. Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly. Woman who meets Red Sox fan in winter must cope with his transformation into obsessed summer fan.
Charming date movie with good baseball detail. Though the plot arc is a little predictable and a little too much geared toward the laughs of the moment rather than overall dramatic logic, well-pitched performances by Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon compensate.
- Finding Buck McHenry. (2000) Dir. Charles Burnett. Enthusiastic but modestly-talented white youth ballplayer finds a coach for an expansion team -- and then finds that the coach is a great Negro League star sub rosa.
From Alfred Slote's novel, this film features a strong central performance by Ossie Davis, and a nice cameo by Cub immortal Ernie Banks. Ruby Dee plays Buck McHenry's wife, fifty years after she played Jackie Robinson's.
- Frequency. (2000) Dir. Gregory Hoblit. A man bonds with his father over the 1969 World Series; so what if it's 1999 and Dad has been dead for 30 years?
Intelligently constructed, brilliantly edited thriller that features considerable Twilight-Zone suspense and a large helping of Field of Dreams.
- Game 6. (2005) Dir. Michael Hoffman. Playwright opens a troubled Broadway production in front of a lethally hostile critic on 25 October 1986, just as his beloved Red Sox try to clinch the World Series at Shea Stadium.
Written by Don DeLillo and intriguingly acted by Michael Keaton and supporting players Robert Downey, Jr., Griffin Dunne, Bebe Neuwirth, Harris Yulin, and Catherine O'Hara. Ultimately DeLillo's signature detachment drains the intensity from the story, but the picture gets some points for originality and effort.
- Gandhi at the Bat. (2006) Dir. Stephanie Argy & Alec Boehm. The Mahatma, coached by the Sultan of Swat, takes his cuts against Lefty Grove at Yankee Stadium.
Delightful short that replicates old newsreel styles, based on a short story by Chet Williamson. Features a charming central performance by Delfin Labao as Gandhi.
- Hustle. Dir. Peter Bogdanovich. ESPN. 25 September 2004. Pete Rose falls like Lucifer from the heights of 4,192-hit glory to the depths of disgrace.
An essentially undramatic story. Screenwriter Christian Darren tries to give us someone to identify with in the character of Rose's chief accuser, Paul Janszen, but the lack of suspense and the unrelentingly slimy nature of the situation and the central character are hard to overcome. Gamely acted by Tom Sizemore as Rose and Dash Mihok as Janszen.
- Mr 3000. (2004) Dir. Charles Stone III. Aging slugger must return to the majors to restore his career record and redeem himself.
The presence of star Bernie Mac should promise a laugh-fest, but this turns out to be a low-key formulaic light melodrama.
- The Rookie. (2002) Dir. John Lee Hancock. Thirtysomething high-school coach Jim Morris leads his team to victory and follows up by making the major leagues himself.
Pleasant enough in its first hour, when normal high-school sport-movie formulas are obeyed; not much dramatic action in the second hour, as the film plods toward the foregone conclusion of Morris's major-league debut. Watch for Rachel Griffiths, arms full of groceries, kicking off her shoes.
- Stealing Home. 2009. A drive to the outfield, a dash to first, a "safe" call, and a steroid suspicion – all in five seconds.
One of the lesser efforts from 5 Second Films, but in an odd way it captures the essence of the steroid panic in baseball.
- Sugar. (2008) Dirs. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck. Miguel Santos, nicknamed "Sugar," rises from a Dominican baseball academy to A-ball in the States – and falls just as quickly.
Takes a truly original approach both to the busher-makes-good story and the American immigrant story. "Sugar" Santos doesn't follow the typical Kid from Tomkinsville path from obscurity to triumph to adversity to triumph. Instead, he chooses to get off the formulaic track altogether and deliberately, and constructs a new life for himself by shedding his baseball dreams. Sport retains its magic, in a charming final sequence, but for Sugar it isn't the only venue worth succeeding in.