[MOVIE REVIEW]Quaid delivers the heat in true comeback story

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[MOVIE REVIEW]Quaid delivers the heat in true comeback story

There is a reflective element to baseball -- a sport unencumbered by shot clocks and time pressures. That leisurely character seems the opposite to today's movies, with their frenetic cuts and incessant noise. And yet time and again Hollywood turns to America's national pastime as its sport of choice.

"The Rookie" is the latest baseball picture to come our way, and it is one of the most enjoyable in years, if only because it is based on the true story of Jim Morris, a man who made his major league debut at age 35.

Morris was reared in a military family, and was dragged around the country as his father was constantly posted to different bases. The one constant in his life was baseball, and he was obsessed with it through pitch after pitch in any season.

The film skips over Morris's stint in minor league ball, and instead picks up the story with Morris (played by Dennis Quaid) married with children, teaching high school chemistry in an arid, west Texas town. His arm has suffered through several major surgeries.

Why didn't he make it to the big leagues? His father was unsupportive. His arm was never that strong. The list goes on. But he doesn't cast blame. "There's never one reason," he tells his young son.

He is, however, trying to coach the underachieving high school baseball team. The players offer him a deal one day ?if they can win the district championships this year, he has to try out for professional ball again. Considering the team hasn't won more than a game or two a season in years, it seems like a safe bet.

But somehow the team pulls it off. So, keeping his bargain, Morris goes to a tryout, only to discover that he can now pitch harder than he could in his 20s. The baseball scouts can barely believe it, but they believe their radar guns, and none of them is about to pass up someone with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball. Quickly, Morris is back in minor league baseball. Within three months he makes his debut with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Even though this movie has as solid a foundation as any real life story could (nearly everything in the film is true), the director John Lee Hancock does wander into schmaltz too often. A couple of times, deeply into schmaltz. Save one nifty scene of Morris pitching to a police radar gun, none of the added elements work, and some nearly derail the film.

Nearly, but not quite. Quaid in particular is solid and believable as Jim Morris, giving up his more cartoonish mannerisms for an earthy performance that is both strong and vulnerable.

The folksy music (put together by Carter Burwell, the same person responsible for the Grammy-winning music on "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?") helps set the mood, and the cinematography is excellent. Overlook the occasional outburst of cheesiness, and "The Rookie" is a worthwhile baseball film that, while not transcending the usual baseball cliches, at least uses them to best effect.

by Mark Russell

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