The Rookie Review
By Joe Lozito
Life's a Pitch
Think for a moment about everything you would expect from a feel-good baseball movie - particularly one based on the story of high school baseball coach and science teacher Jim Morris who, at 35, pitched two seasons with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. You'd probably expect to see a montage of baseball footage as the losing high school team wins the big game inspired by Coach Morris' example. Or the scene where he and his wife fight about the feasibility of leaving his family for three months to play for a Florida farm team. You might even expect an estranged father-son relationship redeemed only after Jim decides to go after his dreams. Well, if that's the case, then you will love "The Rookie". If you're looking for something new and different, look elsewhere - though in this movie season, I wouldn't know where to tell you to look.
Writer Mike Rich ("Finding Forrester") takes the best moments from "Bull Durham", "The Natural", "Field of Dreams" and even "The Bad News Bears" (but not, thankfully, "The Bad News Bears Go To Japan") and weaves an old-fashioned "it's never too late to dream" tale which plays like a fantasy even though it is based in fact. Perhaps this is because Mr. Rich never goes too far into any character or situation. The story of the young high-schoolers - who bet their Coach that he must try out for the big leagues if they win the district championship - is all but dropped in the second half of the film. Likewise, the father-son relationship feels tacked on just by the fact that it's wrapped up so neatly.
However, thanks to a subtle and engaging performance by Dennis Quaid, "The Rookie" is a feel-good movie as charming and quaint as its West Texas setting. It seems as though Mr. Quaid has made his career by taking the leavings of Kevin Costner and Harrison Ford; he possesses equal quantities of Mr. Costner's salt-of-the-Earth grit and Mr. Ford's salt-of-the-Earth heroism. Now, well into his 40s, Mr. Quaid has found a role that fits him like a Texas drawl. As Jim Morris, he carries the film on his aged but capable shoulders. This is, in a way, the distant cousin of the over-the-hill quarterback he played in Oliver Stone's sensory assault "Any Given Sunday".
Mr. Quaid is assisted by scenery-loving direction by TV director John Lee Hancock, "Six Feet Under's" Rachel Griffiths in the under-used role of Mrs. Morris, and the obligatory precious, but not overly so, 8-year-old Angus T. Jones as his son.
"The Rookie" is not a home run. It may be possible that there really wasn't very much drama to Jim Morris' background or his decision to try out for the majors. If that were the case, I would almost rather have seen an A&E biography than a concocted Hollywood parable of unrealized dreams. That "almost" is thanks to Dennis Quaid.