Volume 95, Issue 10
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Keanu gets it right in the 'hood
Hardball knocks one out of the park
What do you get when you cross Dangerous Minds with The Bad News Bears?
The answer: Hardball, the latest effort by Varsity Blues director Brian Robbins.
Hardball is the tale of Connor O'Neill (Keanu Reeves), a gambling junkie who's run out of luck. With bookies breaking down his door, Connor finds himself forced to earn money by coaching an inner-city youth baseball team.
The team is composed of the easily identifiable stereotypes who have made Hollywood movies about sports teams so memorable. There's the fat kid, the obnoxiously cute/younger kid, the odd/silent kid and, of course, the tough/hot-tempered kid.
The major twist on the standard formula is these children are from "the 'hood yo" and curse a blue streak that would have Snoop Dogg washing their mouths out.
The first problem Connor encounters is that two of the boys' mothers will not allow them to play until they finish their book reports a position we've all found ourselves in at one time or another. It's while resolving this dilemma that Connor meets the boys' schoolteacher and future crush, Elizabeth, played by Diane Lane.
Once the team is assembled, they face a plethora of amusing and heart-wrenching obstacles on their way to the championship ranging from doctored birth certificates to a tragic shooting. All the while, Connor aims to resolve his gambling problems and get the girl.
While Hardball at first seems like a standard Disney-style childrens' sports film, its dark settings and hardened characters give it an edge that seems more reminiscent of Boys in the Hood than Angels in the Outfield.
The cinematic contrast between the scenes on the baseball field and those within the harsh reality of the streets serves to remind us of the childhood feeling of escape found within a simple game of baseball.
The safety of the sporting life is further expressed when one boy who is forced to leave the team turns to a gun-toting gang; a turn of events that seems more like a commercial for Nike (which much of the movie actually is) than a moral message.
The darker, realistic aspects of the story also remind both Reeves' character and the audience that no matter how bad life seems, there is always someone who is worse off than you.
This film provides the audience with a number of other valuable lessons as well: reading books is good, you shouldn't use the word "bitch" so much, gambling pays off in the end, listening to the Notorious B.I.G. can make you a better pitcher and the most important thing in life is showing up.
This last lesson, which is coincidentally the tagline for the movie, is possibly the most perplexing, since it seems if you are part of life, you've already shown up. Despite this, Connor makes certain to inform the team he is "amazed by their ability to show up."
Amidst the morally confusing ideas is a variety of humourous and sickeningly touching moments that keep you riveted, as only Hollywood drivel can. The director wisely uses a flurry of images during many game scenes in order to keep the viewer from falling prey to the short attention span that's made the TV generation famous.
As for the acting, Keanu Reeves delivers the same laboured performance he always does and Diane Lane's role is so small and unnecessary, she has no real opportunity to act. The only true actors are the children on the team.
Regardless of the mediocre acting and the predictable ending, Hardball is surprisingly different and even a bit entertaining. So, while this film isn't Oscar bound, you shouldn't feel ashamed to be bound for the theatre to check it out.
Copyright © The Gazette 2001