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Rated 3.07 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
HARDBALL Strikes Out
by Betty Jo Tucker

Some movies irritate me so much itís a challenge to review them. Take Hardball for instance --- a comedy-drama starring one of my favorite actors, Keanu Reeves, in a role that should have gone to John Cusack, the champ at projecting nervous energy on screen. Reeves underplays an antsy compulsive gambler who achieves redemption by coaching an African-American Little League baseball team in a downtrodden area of Chicago. Inspiring theme, you say? Maybe so, but Iím burned out on stories about white men saving African-Americans. Why not make a flick about Wesley Snipes rescuing a group of Anglo smart-alecks? Now thatís a film Iíd like to see.

Hardball sets back the progress of U.S. race relations by at least ten years. Its lack of positive black male role models and depiction of the teamís players as a bunch of foul-mouthed, disrespectful pre-teens put me in a very bad mood. Still, Reeves (The Matrix) is always watchable, even here at his scruffiest. And he establishes excellent rapport with a little baseball player wannabe, portrayed by newcomer DeWayne Warren, the cutest kid Iíve seen on screen since Haley Joel Osment. When the coach finally gives "G-Baby" his uniform, it melted my heart.

Reeves also shares some amusing moments with Diane Lane (The Perfect Storm), one of filmdomís most underrated actresses. In the role of a caring teacher, Lane persuades Reeves to help her students develop more than their baseball skills. She displays just the right combination of mockery and admiration when a "dressed for success" Reeves shows up in class ready to lead the discussion on "A Wrinkle in Time." Regrettably, this very funny scene was much too short. As a former elementary school teacher, I wanted to see more classroom interaction among the students, Reeves, and Lane --- or anything, for that matter, except those dreadful baseball sequences.

Why are they so dreadful? Because itís difficult to understand the dialogue. I donít think I missed much of the excessive profanity, but the youngsters mumbled everything else. And thereís no suspense in any of their games. Predictability reigns.

However, thereís nothing predictable about a tragedy that befalls one of the team members. I found this part of the film especially troubling. Without giving away an important plot point, Iíll just say it convinced me the movie should be rated "R" instead of "PG-13." Iím relieved I didnít take any children with me to the sneak preview.

Inspired by Daniel Coyleís book describing his own experiences coaching a youth baseball team in Chicagoís Cabrini-Green housing project, Hardball attempts to emphasize triumph over adversity. And yet, the violent ending of the film, like the closing scenes of Pay It Forward, contradicts its uplifting message.

(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for thematic elements, language, and some violence.)


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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