Based on the previews, "The Rookie" promised to be pure Disney -- a cheesy tearjerker that would make you cringe with wholesome goodness.
But the true story of Jim Morris, an aspiring pitcher from Texas, manages to be inspirational rather than force feed nausea-inducing sweetness.
Writer Mike Rich and director John Lee Hancock open the film in an almost fairy-tale fashion, flashing back to 1923 as two nuns bless an unproductive oil site in Big Lake, Texas. The nuns spread rose petals on the ground and call on St. Rita, the saint of impossible dreams, to come to the aid of their investment.
The hero of the story, Jimmy Morris, begins in much the same way, with an impossible dream and faith in St. Rita. Jimmy is a baseball-loving Army brat who has dreams of pitching in the major leagues although he never stays in any town long enough to join a Little League team.
Decades later, Jimmy finds himself as a middle-aged high school chemistry teacher in Big Lake. As the baseball coach at the high school, Jimmy (Dennis Quaid) makes a deal with his team that if they win the district championship, he'll follow his dream of playing in the big leagues and at least try out for the minors.
The story floats along in a predictable yet well-versed manner from this point. Quaid, along with the music of Carter Burwell, plucks at the heart strings and make the audience want to dig an old baseball glove out of the closet and join Jimmy in the quest of his dream.
Jimmy's struggles and accomplishments have the audience cheering him on and crying with him, yet the writers fail to explain how Jimmy is realistically able to outdo kids almost half his age at the pitchers' mound -- other than his belief in St. Rita.
But this near-impossible feat in the movie turns out to be a reality.
Morris winds up making it to the minor leagues and pitching for the Durham Bulls at an age when most players are considering retirement. It was with the Bulls that Morris earned the nickname of "Old Man River" from his teammates.
After his stint in the minors, baseball history shows that Morris actually did make it to the big leagues despite his age, playing as a relief pitcher for two seasons with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The movie builds on this extraordinary phenomenon.
Dennis Quaid brings frustration to life while portraying the inner conflict that plagues Morris -- he can either follow an almost irrational dream of being a pitcher or take the rational route of a teacher and supporting his wife and kids.
Although Morris' wife (Rachel Griffiths) delivers predictably discouraging dialogue unwanted by Morris, Griffiths manages to persuade the audience to understand why she is partially reserved about Morris following his dream.
"The Rookie" pays tribute to Morris' inspirational story, thankfully without adding in any dazzling side plots that would only ruin the overall work.
Instead, the writers chose to focus on the aspect that makes this film truly remarkable: The fact that it is reality. "The Rookie" is another good old baseball tale about the American dream that puts a lump in your throat because it's true.
Of course, the plot could have dealt with anything other than baseball -- finding Prince Charming, flying as an adolescent, becoming a mermaid -- but the message will always remain the same: Follow your heart.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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