September 20, 2001

On the Ball

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While Keanu Reeves is somewhat famous for being, shall I say, of questionable talent, one has to admire his perseverance. His latest film, Hardball, doesn’t stray from the typical perception, but it is still not a total loss.

Reeves plays Connor O’Neil, a gambler and scalper down on his luck in Chicago, who is pursued by a cavalcade of men who want desperately to break his legs. After one particularly big loss, when he asks a friend for money, he is essentially forced into coaching a baseball team of kids from the projects for the payment. Needless to say, self-discovery and happiness ensue.

From previews and descriptions, this film appears to be the run-of-the-mill Mighty Ducks -type tale in which an unlikely coach, through a zany progression including plenty of comedic montages, turns a group of misfit kids into a lean, mean, fighting machine of a team. This, however, turns out to be false advertising.

While such a plot line is quietly present, there were aspects of this film that differed from The Mighty Ducks and other archetypes, such as the portrayal of life outside the team for the underprivileged kids, which was admittedly disturbing. As the kids approached their buildings, they filed between the drug dealers and people shouting at them from all directions, looking straight ahead, terrified. Once inside, families all sat on the floor (below the windows) to avoid stray bullets. This depiction was one admirable portion of the film, albeit a bit out of place.

At this point, it would be easy to simply pan Reeves’ performance and get it out of the way, but in this case it is not necessarily that clear-cut. Sure, overall, his eyes still had no expression and his voice was monotonous beyond reason. This is what made him shine in the Bill and Ted movies. But there were moments when one had to admit that his acting was acceptable.

Reeves seemed convincingly uncomfortable at one point, when he stood to lose twelve thousand dollars on a bet. There were, however, laughable moments when he got angry, and lacked the proper fire in his eyes to make it realistic. But in general, his mediocrity probably wouldn’t have been as blatant in this film, had I not been trained to look for it by past critics.

Diane Lane plays the teacher of the boys on Reeves’ team. Since, by some obnoxious law, there can’t seem to be a movie without a love-related side plot, they hit it off. Their courtship, in this case, is appropriately underdeveloped. The spotlight is shifted to Reeves struggle with gambling and the lives of the kids.

The absolute highlight of this film is the kids on the team. They were charming, hilarious, and did an excellent job even when their roles became serious. Of course, as with any kid sports movie, there was the obligatory chubby kid (who was extraordinarily cute), and a few jokes centered around that.

The cinematography was not particularly noticeable throughout the movie, with the exception of a few insightful camera angles in showing the homes of the children and other random, sparsely-placed points. The music, on the other hand, added a nice touch, allowing such old school hits as “Big Poppa” by Notorious B.I.G. to surface. Such auditory distraction helped action scenes involving baseball games and practices progress smoothly.

While it is to be expected of this sort of film, the predictability was a low point. From the acting to the plot, no surprises were to be found. But the kids made it sufficiently fun (and, on the flip side, sobering) and, therefore, the film was not an utter waste of time.

Archived article by Stacy Williams