Sappy filmmaking bobbles great story in ‘Perfect Game’
A wonderful true story lurks inside the family-friendly baseball movie, The Perfect Game. In 1957, a motley group of street kids from a working-class industrial area of Monterrey, Mexico, not only shaped themselves into a baseball team with the heart and chutzpah to earn official Little League franchise status, they also became the first foreign team to advance all the way to the top in the Little League World Series across the border.
The facts of the story ought to be foolproof: plucky underdogs overcome financial and physical hardships (on average, these kids were 35 pounds lighter and six inches shorter than their U.S. counterparts), blatant racial prejudice, and impossible odds—to show their Yankee opponents how America’s Pastime is played. But the facts of the story aren’t enough for writer W. William Winokur (adapting the script from his non-fiction book) or director William Dear, who leave no shameless cliché, nor sentimentalized Hallmark Moment unexploited in their quest to turn this interesting material into a treacly greeting card.
Cut from the majors before he can advance beyond towel boy status for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.) returns to Monterrey to work in an iron foundry, drink and sulk, until spunky little Angel Macias (Jake T. Austin) pesters him into coaching their makeshift sandlot team. Cheech Marin plays the twinkly, baseball-crazy, homily-spouting local priest, discussing God and miracles without a trace of irony.
All the young actors playing the Mexican teammates are charming, but their road to the Series is entirely populated by stereotypes: snooty rich kids, ignorant rednecks, noble Negroes, a disillusioned father determined to spoil his son’s dream, a sassy cub reporter (Emilie de Ravin) covering the story. Plot points ring alarmingly false, from an extraneous relationship between Cesar and a local woman (they scarcely even have a conversation, yet we’re supposed to care about the progress of their fledgling romance), to the clumsy device by which all the Mexicans speak Spanish-accented English among themselves. This is OK until they get to the U.S., when Anglos and Latinos speaking the same language have to pretend they don’t understand each other. (In one scene, Cesar actually says, “(The kids) don’t speak English.”)
Too bad the film is such an unimaginative disservice to such a great story. Still, its fundamental message about tolerance, sportsmanship, and dreams might be appreciated by very young children who are hearing it for the first time.
THE PERFECT GAME ★★(out of four)
With Clifton Collins Jr., Cheech Marin, Jake T. Austin, and Emilie de Ravin. Written by W. William Winokur. Directed by William Dear.
An IndustryWorks Pictures release. Rated PG. 113 minutes.