“They’ve never seen real grass”
The film The Perfect Game is a great story of the underdog defeating adversity at home and in public. This young team of Mexicans band together against all odds to form a Little League team in Monterey to be entered into the 1957 competition against the powerhouses of 12-year old baseball Americans. Not only must they overcome a novice at best skill at the game—helped enormously by their ex-Major League towel boy turned coach—but also the bigotry and racism of a segregated America not yet ready to see foreigners from below the southern border hand their precious kids a lesson in humility. Standing on its own, the story is quite the tale and intriguing at every turn. However, this is not a book, it is a visual medium and in that respect doesn’t live up to the quality of its plot. A made-for-TV movie at best, this film is very heavy-handed and way too feel-good for anyone with a brain hoping to find something that may stimulate a cell up there in his skull. Laughable in its saccharine drenched contrivances and score’s orchestral swells just begging to elicit sentimental tears, the Lifetime movie of the week quality definitely distracted this viewer, one who was intent on learning a story and seeing it all play out, not just to watch close-ups of pouting boys and cheesy smiles.
Don’t get me wrong, people looking for the uplifting story of success, when no one gave them a chance, will be very pleased. The amount of applause DURING the screening proves that point as viewers definitely get invested in these types of tales. For me, however, I need a little more, some real stakes that at times showed face—the coach’s drunken misstep that risks deporting them all due to expired visas—but mostly just bridge us to the next heartfelt moment. Stereotypes and clichés abound leading me to tell you all to make sure you check your mind at the door; it will not be needed. I don’t want to fault any of the acting, except of course Emilie de Ravin’s atrocious accent that made me want to wring her neck, because it isn’t bad considering the script and material. Clifton Collins Jr. is a favorite of mine and while at times is very out of his element playing off of a troupe of children, brings some of his standard brood and contemplative thinking. Used to playing psychotics, whether extreme as in Rules of Attraction or introverted as in Capote, casting him as the coach finding his heart again is a bold choice. For the most part it is a gamble that pays off.
As for the rest of the cast, I was completely thrown off by the amount of familiar faces being that I truly had not even heard of the film before being given the preview pass. Stalwarts like Bruce McGill, John Cothran Jr., Frances Fisher, and Chris Mulkey all make appearances alongside Louis Gossett Jr., (talk about a blast from the past). Even David Koechner reins in his annoyance for a decent cameo that brings a couple laughs. However, the kids definitely become the heart of the tale. Head-shaking for the fact that “Heroes” star Hayden Panettiere’s younger brother Jansen is playing a Mexican aside, the kids are very cute and fun to spend time with. You have your common traits for each to overcome and be friends despite of them, as well as the father/son dynamic needed to bring the heavy emotion. Unfortunately the chasm between Papa Macias and his last living son is so huge and so front and center, the inevitable reconciliation is so obvious that it loses all impact it might have had.
A warning must be said as well concerning the make-up of the film. Yes, there are many montages and time lapses to save time, however, you experience a ton of baseball. Whether an inning or abridged games in their entirety, director William Dear shows a little piece of each stop to the championship. The cuts are quick and often, so I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the actual baseball action was faked, but they do their job to portray what was being done. A family film from start to finish, I was the least bit surprised to find that Dear also helmed Angels in the Outfield. More life-affirming tale then sports flick, don’t be afraid to take your young ones to a movie even though it stars Cheech Marin. Long gone are his Cheech and Chong days, playing the priest that starts the seed of baseball in the small Mexican town, Marin brings some subtle chuckles, but mostly plays the rock opposite Collins Jr.’s conflicted hero. Never surprising at any moment, The Perfect Game may not be brilliance at the movies, but for what it is, you could do much worse than partake in a courageous true story while sitting through the candy-coated exuberance of it all.
The Perfect Game 5/10 | ★ ★
A Scene from THE PERFECT GAME featuring (from left to right) Angel (Jake T. Austin), Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.), Mario (Moises Arias), Gerando (Mario Quinonez), Enrique (Jansen Panettiere), Padre Esteban (Cheech Marin) and Frankie (Emilie de Ravin). Photo credit: Vivian Zink. Copyright © Lionsgate Films. All Rights Reserved.