Starring: Clifton Collins Jr., Cheech Marin, Jake T. Austin
Directed by: William Dear (“Angels in the Outfield”)
Written by: W. William Winokur (debut)
It’s not easy to swing for the fences when the pitcher can’t even get it over home plate.
Therein lies the problem for “The Perfect Game,” the true story of the first Mexican baseball team to win the Little League World Series. While the material is there to develop an inspirational underdog sports movie, director William Dear and screenwriter W. William Winokur seem more comfortable lobbing Wiffle balls into the air when all the narrative is begging for is something with a bit more momentum. Sadly, “Game” plays like a lightweight athlete despite its big, misplaced heart.
In the film, a group of ragtag kids from the poverty-stricken, industrial town of Monterrey form a baseball team to compete against the best in the world. They enter the tournament when Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.), a washed up local who was recently fired from the Major League, agrees to coach the boys and turn them into a competitive team. Cue the formulaic training montages and siesta jokes.
While “The Perfect Game” is exactly the type of story Hollywood needs to sit up and pay attention to, there’s no sense in supporting something that feels so unauthentic and glossed over. Never mind that the movie is in English (at least the kids fall back on their thick, cartoonish Mexican accents), the real eye-rolling should begin during a scene where a baseball literally falls from heaven. Then there’s the scene where the team recruits a player based on how hard he hits a piñata and another where the team stops for lunch at a diner and proceeds to dip their fried chicken into chocolate sauce to make molé.
The best line in the movie comes from team pitcher Angel Macias (Jake T. Austin) when he asks his coach where he learned how to throw a fastball.
“Who taught you how to pitch?” the young ballplayer asks.
“Cardinals,” Coach Cesar says referring to his days with the professional team in St. Louis.
“From the Basilica?” Angel asks with a sweet innocence.
There are a few other cute moments like that one when “Game” gets away with flaunting its cloying script, but those moments don’t come close to outweighing the massive amount of sports, religion, and cultural clichés from both sides of the border.
“It would take a miracle to make these kids into a real team,” Cesar says at one point.
It would take a heck of a lot more to make “The Perfect Game” as interesting as the black and white photos of the real-life players it displays during the closing credits. That’s the story everyone should really be rooting for.
Starring: Emma Roberts, Jake T. Austin, Don Cheadle
Directed by: Thor Freudenthal (debut)
Written by: Jeff Lowell (“Over Her Dead Body”), Robert Schooley (“Sky High”) and Mark McCorkle (“Sky High”)
Call off the rescue mission. “Hotel for Dogs” is in so much trouble from every filmmaking aspect, not even a massive St. Bernard with one of those little brandy-filled kegs around its neck can save it from dying a cold and bitter death.
Based on a book by Lois Duncan, who jumps to another genre after writing the novels that inspired the “I Know What You Did Last Summer” slasher series, “Hotel for Dogs” is an absurd family film about a pair of foster siblings who spend their time rescuing dogs and housing them in an abandoned hotel.
Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin) have been shipped to five sets of foster parents in the last three years because of behavioral issues. They’re social worker Bernie (Academy Award nominated actor Don Cheadle, who’s doing some cinematic slumming here) tells them that if they act up again, he will be forced to place them separate homes. Getting out of their present situation isn’t a bad idea (they’re living with two rude wannabe rockers played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillion) but Bruce is too dependent on his big sister to handle another home on his own.
The kids, however, decide that they’re love of dogs far outweighs the advice of their case manager. Instead, they start saving stray dogs off the street (who just happen to all be purebred, clean, and well-trained) by rounding them up in a condemned hotel near their home. They get help from other kids in the neighborhood who seem to be the only ones in the entire city to notice the vacant hotel has new tenants.
Starting a doggie day care is far easier than one would imagine. Since Bruce is a novice inventor (a trade he learns from his father although nothing else is said about the kids’ parents), he creates a network of pooch-friendly machines and simulators that allow the pets to walk themselves, feed themselves, and play catch all on their own. Forget that at the beginning of the film Andi and Bruce have to hustle a pawn shop to afford food for one stray dog, now they can somehow feed them by the dozens.
While Roberts and Austin are likeable as actors (she is Julia’s niece and did fairly well as the title character in 2007′s “Nancy Drew” and he is a Disney Channel veteran), you can’t help but wonder who really stunk up the joint, the dogs or the humans. When one of the characters exclaims, “We’re out dogged,” you’ll know you’ve had your fair share of puppy jokes for the day. Easily-entertained young children and biased dog lovers might enjoy the cuteness of man’s best friend, but when a script is this pointless you have to wonder why producers didn’t just print it out and use it as a puppy pad during production.