This feel-good movie, based on a true story, is a slightly better than average tale of the average Joe chasing an above average dream.
The recipe for this tale is simple: Take one part Bad News Bears, three parts The Natural and one part Disney's stellar storytelling, mix for a little more than two hours and--voilà!--you get The Rookie. Jim Morris is a West Texas high school teacher and baseball coach whose try at the big leagues ended 10 years ago with yet another shoulder surgery. (He grew up as baseball-loving army brat whose dad moved the family often, eventually relocating them to the baseball-hating town of Big Lake.) Thus we start with the somewhat bitter Jim, one who pines to leave Big Lake, his childhood and his stern, overbearing father behind. After seeing his fastball, the team he coaches makes a bet with him--if they win the district title, he has to try out for the major leagues again. After a miserable start, the team wins 17 games and captures the district title, compelling Jim to try out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays...and I'm willing to bet you can see where this is headed. Ultimately, Jim's magical ride to ''The Show'' heals all wounds.
Dennis Quaid handles the protagonist's inner conflict (''Should I toil to fulfill my familial responsibilities and give up my dream, or toil as an underpaid minor leaguer and sacrifice being with my family?'') well enough, but his real triumph in the limited role is the somewhat convincing way he pitches. (By contrast, Tim Robbins looked ridiculous pitching in Bull Durham.) Rachel Griffiths is, as always, a competent professional and as Jim's wife strikes a nice balance between being supportive yet worried about what's going to happen to her family and her life. The rest of the characters are written flat, though the wasted cast (including crazy/beautiful's Jay Hernandez as a member of the high school team Morris coaches) tries to rise above the pedestrian dialogue. The sole exception is Angus T. Jones; the kid is cuter than cute and helps carry the movie.
To say that the direction is a bit heavy-handed is to say that Everest is just a bit tall. At every turn director John Lee Hancock lays it on pretty thick. The inclusion of a Big Lake landmark called Saint Rita #1, an oil well funded by nuns and named after the patron saint of impossible dreams, is just the beginning. Many more hackneyed moments permeate the film on the way to a predictable end. Still, Hancock stays true to the source material (a book co-written by the real Jim Morris), which is so improbable that you can't help wonder if it's made up. (It's not. In a wonderful cameo, Royce Clayton re-enacts his at-bat with Morris. Clayton, indeed, was Morris' first strikeout victim.) Perhaps, then, Hancock's direction isn't so much overdone schmaltz as it is paean to the dreamlike reality of Morris' life. Major league baseball may have lost its innocence in real life, but in this movie, Hancock is able to give a little of it back, if just for a moment.
The story is clichéd and the direction is heavy-handed--yet, I loved every moment of it, and couldn't help myself cheering Morris' every triumph along the way. Who doesn't want to believe that dreams, even impossible ones, can come true?