The Final Season
True-story movies, even the PG-est of the PG, are supposed to stimulate you in some way. In the nauseatingly unbelievable Final Season, only your gag reflex will be stimulated.
In Norway, Iowa (pop. 586), baseball is what you do by defaultthere apparently aren't too many options. It is either baseball or gas-station get-togethers, according to the (true) story in The Final Season. Set in 1991, the town's high school baseball team, the Tigers, has amassed 19 State Championships in 22 years, and it is the community's heart and soul. So when a move is put in place to merge the team with another school's for budgetary reasons, the townsfolk are understandably outraged. As a nail in the coffin, the team's longtime coach, Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe), is to be replaced by his much-younger and -less-experienced assistant, Kent Stock (Sean Astin), for the final season. Suddenly, everyone sours on their team and its chances of notching that 20th title. But what they don't know is that there is a diamond-in-the-rough catcher (Michael Angarano) who has just moved into townas a punishment by his dad (Tom Arnold)and that Stock is every bit as determined as Coach Van Scoyoc to continue Norway's winning tradition. It initially takes some time for the players to warm up to their new coach, but after a while Oh, you know the drill.
The updated score in Sean Astin's sports-movie career: football 1, baseball 0. The well-traveled actor can't quite do for Season what he did for Rudy, partly because this movie is cheesy beyond repair. But Astin, who also executive-produced, is by far the film's biggest asset, both on and off screen. He soldiers on as Coach Stock, brimming with realistic enthusiasm and fortitude, perhaps to spite the woeful script. Fellow veteran actor Boothe (Sin City) rounds out Season's two bright spots, as the pitch-perfect embodiment of a baseball sage who doesn't waste words. But he and Astin don't fit in this movie for reasons of authenticity, or lack thereof on the others' part. That includes onetime Next Big Thing Rachael Leigh Cook, who plays Astin's much-too-cutesy love interest; Tom Arnold, striking out in a role that is (mercifully!) a near cameo; and Angarano (Sky High), who gives a performance that is heavy on cliché and light on realism. Like the movie itself.
It's hard to imagine even the youngest of viewers being able to resist sarcastic laughter throughout The Final Seasonthat's just the degree of its corn. Almost everything is wrong here, and the result is a nearly two-hour cliché whose transparency knows no age boundaries. Both director David M. Evans (The Sandlot, of course) and writers Art D'Alessandro and James Grayford seem to only be concerned with concocting unnecessary melodrama. Most of the movie's story, for example, is a highly fictionalized addendum to the less-cinematic true story on which it is based. And one scene early on serves as a microcosm of the director's contrived efforts and forced cheese: After Angarano's Mitch plunks his classmate/teammate with a Wiffle ball, Evans cues music so heavy you'd think you were watching the climax of Mystic River. It's utterly laughable and indicative of Evans' many missteps. As for the baseball scenes, they look sufficient when shown, but Final Season is so much less a sports movie than it is the feel-good stuff of Disney TV moviesnay, Disney cartoons.
Hollywood.com rated this film 1/2 star.