Directed by William Dear
That’s not entirely a surprise. Dear (“Harry and the Hendersons”) has spent his career as a journeyman director turning out decently crafted but uninspired pieces of escapism which are more concerned with tugging easy heartstrings regardless of how clumsily they do so. Which pretty much sums up “The Perfect Game.”
In 1957, despite being 10 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball, segregation was still a common fact of life in the game just as it was in America as a whole. A barrier that Cesar Faz (Clifton Collins, Jr.) was never quite able to get beyond in his bid to coach for the St. Louis Cardinals. After years of banging his head against that wall Faz eventually decides to return to Monterrey, Mexico, where he finds a group of pre-teen boys filled with the same dream he once had to play baseball.
Sports films are practically made to play on the emotions and tug on heartstrings. It’s so easy they tend to lure well-meaning filmmakers into doing so through the continuous repetition of trite moments and cliched expressions. And Dear isn’t that well-meaning.
The team is made up of a collection of little boys types: the strong kid (we’re told because of his ability to hit a pinata); the fast kid (we’re told because of his ability to steal and make a clean getaway); the romeo, etc. There are a lot of kids on the team and some sort of shorthand is needed to give them personality and make them stand out, but the filmmakers don’t seem to even be trying that. The only one given any sort of personality is star pitcher Angel (Jake T. Austin) whose father refuses to see him as a person of worth, worn down as he is by poverty and the loss of his first son.
There’s so much cliché involved they often get confused and seem to do little but expend screen time. Emilie de Ravin’s newspaperwoman seems to be in the wrong movie as she often seems to think she’s actually in “His Girl Friday” as she fights with her editor over being forced to cover Faz’s underdogs in their quest to reach the Little League World Series.
All of that in one big gulp, however, surely makes “The Perfect Game” sound a lot worse than it really is. It’s hard not to root for an underdog, especially a relentlessly optimistic one, and the reality is “Game” has a lot of heart. But not much in the way of legs. It stumbles badly over its own good intentions through either a lack of desire or complete inability to use any but the flattest and most familiar terms to bring its story to us.