Star and executive producer Sean Astin must have hoped for another "Rudy" with this based-on-a-true-story sports picture, but "The Final Season" is actually an impassioned plea against school consolidation.
The high school baseball team in Norway, Iowa, has won state championship after state championship for decades, despite its tiny size. Crowds gather to watch the boys practice. The coaches are legends, and the players are heroes. Kent Stock (Astin) accepts a short-term assistant's job there just so that he can work with Coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe). But even as these two become friends and lead the kids to the playoffs in 1990, evil administrators and tax-cutters plot to merge Norway High with a larger neighboring school and to get rid of Coach Van Scoyoc.
Meanwhile in Chicago, troubled Mitch (Michael Angarano, a ringer for Shia LaBeouf) is being a rebellious teenager, so his dad (Tom Arnold) ships him off to the grandparents in Norway. Throw in Rachael Leigh Cook as a state government worker reluctantly helping the nasty consolidators, and anyone who has seen a sports movie in the past 10 years can fill in the rest.
Director David Mickey Evans ("The Sandlot") does fine work with bucolic Iowa cornfields, ball fields and pastures. Nathan Wang's score borrows blatantly from "The Natural" and is slathered on thick in all the big emotional scenes. They establish the right nostalgic mood, but it's broken with that loud "ping" of a metal bat every time a kid gets a hit.
-- Mike Mayo (Oct. 12, 2007)
Contains salty language, drug references and a teen who tries to smoke but seldom does.