The Rookie

In September 1999, Jim Morris made his debut in the major leagues, relief pitching for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. What was unusual about him was that he was long past the prime age for baseball, and already had a chance in the minor leagues. Back then, an injury forced Morris to forgo his dreams of pitching in the majors, and instead he became a high school science teacher and baseball coach. It is inevitable that a story like this becomes a movie, and it is only fitting that a company like Disney handles the chores. It is so easy to make audiences cringe, or to scare them or overwhelm them with special effects. It is much harder to move them, especially with a good story. The Rookie tells a simple, straightforward story in an emotional manner, nearly guaranteeing numerous hanky moments throughout.

Since everybody knows that Morris will make it to the Devil Rays, first time director John Lee Hancock and screenwriter Mike Rich (Finding Forrester) focus on his journey there. They begin with him as a child (Trevor Morgan, The Glass House, Jurassic Park III), moving around the country because of his father's (Brian Cox, Super Troopers, L.I.E.) military job. Jimmy Sr. does not share Jimmy's love for baseball, and in fact could probably care less. Their relationship is distant and cold. They eventually settle in Big Lake, Texas, a sleepy quaint town that cares more about football. The Rookie flashes forward to an adult Jimmy (Dennis Quaid, Traffic, Frequency). Morris now teaches at the same school as his wife Lorrie (Rachel Griffiths, Very Annie Mary, Blow). They have three children, including token cute kid Hunter (Angus T. Jones, See Spot Run, Simpatico). Things begin changing for Morris when his team bets him that if they win the district championship, then he needs to try out for a team. Morris agrees, since his team, The Owls, is lucky to win one game each season. Inexplicably, they do win, which prompts Morris again to pursue his dream.

It helps that he can throw a 98-mph fastball. Especially for Morris, who is throwing faster than he did his entire life. Morris does end up trying out, and begins on the journey he's been dreaming about since he was a child. If one looks closely at the film, there is nothing really new. The Rookie is similar to almost every other sports movie out there, complete with the big game with an outcome determined at the last minute, lots of male bonding and camaraderie, and triumphing against seemingly impossible odds. However, Hancock does such a good job with his source material that if feels like everything is fresh and new. The small town atmosphere pervades nearly every aspect of the movie. Everybody is friendly, and wants to help others. There is an overwhelming sense of kindness and generosity, so everybody shares in Morris' triumph once it actually happens.

There is also a reverence for the sport of baseball. Every time Morris pitches the ball, it hums across the screen before landing with a thud in the catcher's mitt. Quaid's expression changes every time he is able to let loose and pitch as hard as he can. He has a boyish charm here that is infectious to everybody in the film and the audience. And as much as he loves baseball, he wants to put his family first. It is Lorrie that pushes him to pursue this. Griffiths (who redeems herself after a horrible turn in Very Annie Mary) does not have much to do, but she is able to come off convincingly as a loving, supporting wife. G rated movies are rare enough as is, good ones are even harder to find. The Rookie manages to be a special film that everybody, children, adults, baseball and non-baseball fans can enjoy.

Haro Rates It: Really Good.
2 hours, 9 minutes, Rated G.

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