The Perfect Game
Movie review: Baseball-themed 'Perfect Game' isn't pitch perfect
Friday, April 16, 2010
Quick cultural literacy test: Do the names Max from "Wizards of Waverly Place," Rico from "Hannah Montana" or Chuck from "iCarly" mean anything to you?
If you struck out, you're probably not the target audience for "The Perfect Game," a tepid, baseball-themed heartwarmer starring the trio of cuddly moppets best known for playing the aforementioned characters on popular Disney and Nickelodeon cable TV shows. Based on the improbable but true story of the ragtag Mexican Little League team that, despite all odds, went on win the 1957 Little League World Series -- the first non-U.S. club ever to do so -- "The Perfect Game" is aimed squarely at those too young to have seen more than a handful of come-from-behind sports movies in their lifetimes. Anyone much older than, say, 10, will likely find the underdog saga sappy and manipulative, not to mention filled with sports movie cliches, including the following statement: "It will take a miracle to make them into a real team."
Let the miracles begin. The cinematic acts of God -- for that is what they are, according to team founder Padre Estaban (Cheech Marin, of all people) -- include, but are not limited to, a coach who finds redemption through sport.
Frustrated in his ambition to become a major league coach for the St. Louis Cardinals because he is Mexican, Cesar Faz (Clifton Collins Jr.) is an embittered drunk back in Monterrey when he encounters young Angel (Jake T. Austin of "Wizards" fame), a boy living in the shadow of his deceased older brother, Pedro, who died in a baseball accident several years earlier. Angel's father (Carlos Gómez) is also now an embittered drunk, and he resents the unathletic Angel's interest in the sport that took his other son's life.
All Angel needs to do -- in order to save Cesar from himself and to win back his father's love -- is to recruit a few of his ball-playing friends. They're portrayed by "Hannah Montana's" Moises Arias, "iCarly's" Ryan Ochoa and a gaggle of other extras who seem to have been hired mainly for their ability to speak English with generic Spanish accents. (At times, the members of the cast sound as if they're auditioning for a grade-school production of "West Side Story" with a dramatic reading of "America." It's annoying, but you get used to it.) Who knows, they might even win a few games in the process.
Familiar stuff, to be sure. Except if you're the fresh-faced target demographic, in which case the movie is not without its gently inspirational charms. As my fifth-grader remarked on the way out of the theater, "At first I thought that Angel's team was just going to lose and go home. But then they kept winning more and more games. In the end, when it all came down to that one pitch, it suddenly got really intense and dramatic."
Ah, you never forget your first time, do you?
** PG. At area theaters. Contains scenes of bigotry and alcohol abuse. 113 minutes.