In the vein of sports underdog movies, Hardball is nothing new. Like every other movie out this summer, predictability is the name of the game. There are two things going on here, neither terribly interesting. The first is the story of a rag-tag baseball team with no future. Somehow, they will come together and overcome all the obstacles set forth before them. The second is the story of a broken man with no future. Somehow, he will bring his life back together and overcome all the obstacles set forth before him. Oh, and this guy just happens to be the coach of the team. This guy is Conor O'Neill (Keanu Reeves, Sweet November, The Gift), a habitual gambler in deep debt and in desperate need of money. He agrees to coach the team for $500 a month. He has no intention of becoming a coach, he just wants the money. Hardball is based on the book Hardball: A Season in the Projects by Daniel Coyle.

As O'Neill spends more time with the kids, he unwittingly begins to bond with them. Soon, he is looking out for their welfare, and wants them to succeed. Nevertheless, this takes a while. He continually falls back to gambling, wagering money he does not have to cover his enormous debts. Although everybody lives in the same city, O'Neill lives in a completely different world. He does not understand why his team must walk home in the daylight or the other inherent dangers of living in the projects. Of course their teacher happens to be an attractive woman (Diane Lane, The Perfect Storm, My Dog Skip), and of course she and O'Neill take an instant disliking to each other.

Reeves has an, uh, unique acting style that sometimes works and sometimes bombs horribly. It has a mixed effect here, due to a light script by John Gatis (Summer Catch). There are some particularly bad moments, like when he is singing along to a Notorious B.I.G. song or when he is walking back and forth between his team and his car. The internal change that O'Neill undergoes is never convincing, because he is so far into his gambling addiction. Once the change happens, it is sudden and inexplicable. Also, the way that Hardball resolves O'Neill's addiction to gambling is really no resolution. It is a cop out, and solves nothing. Lane has nothing to do, and it is nearly a waste of a role for her, which is unfortunate, since she is one of Hollywood's most underrated actresses. The kids are nice and cute, but do little more than act nice and cute.

It is obvious that director Brian Robbins (Ready to Rumble, Varsity Blues) strives for the ooey-gooey moments that make people tear up and sigh "aww, how cute." Yet these moments ring oddly hollow. The lines are there, the actors are there, the kids are cute, but there is no emotion. And since this is not really a baseball movie, the baseball scenes are not compelling or suspenseful, hard as they may try. It would help if Robbins and Gatis inserted some originality, but they stick to every predictable turn in a movie of this nature.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 46 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language and some violence.

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