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.
In “The Perfect Game,” veteran actor Carlos Gómez, 48, plays Umberto Macias, the father of Angel Macias who pitched a perfect game in 1957 to earn Monterrey, Mexico its first Little League World Series title. Gómez, who has starred in a number of films over the last 20 years including “The Mambo Kings,” “The Negotiator,” “Desperado,” and “Fools Rush In,” says he was inspired by this true story and wanted to be a part of it when he started doing research for the role.
During an interview with me, Gómez, who is of Cuban descent, talked about the challenges he faced when he first started his career and what he has seen in the industry over the last couple of decades that leads him to believe Hollywood is starting to notice Latinos are an untapped audience.
What spoke to you when you learned about this character?
The father is very conflicted character. He had a kid that has passed away. He really doesn’t want his other son to leave Mexico and play baseball. He wants him to stay in Monterrey and work at the iron mill like him and his father and his grandfather. Culturally, it’s a story that is very Latin because as parents sometimes we don’t want our kids to go away from us and explore. The character has a beautiful arch that he goes through.
I’m sure you had to leave the nest yourself at the beginning of your career. Could you identify with what Umberto was going through? Did your parents react the same way he did?
It’s very similar to my family because I wanted to be an actor and wanted to be in the entertainment business. My parents were very supportive but they are Cuban parents and wanted us to be doctors and lawyers. The fact that I wanted to act and be an artist was unheard of. It is something I can really relate to.
Was there a specific point in where they realized your career choice was a good one?
It’s funny because I did a Broadway show called “Zorba” with Anthony Quinn. We were touring and we came to Miami with the show. I bought my family a whole row of tickets. Finally, my dad accepted the fact that [I was an actor]. He’s working with Anthony Quinn, he must be okay. He must be making a living out of it. That to me was the epitome of them accepting that this is what I wanted to do.
Had you heard about this story before filming or did you have to dig through some of the sports archives to learn more about it?
I didn’t know about the story at all. I couldn’t believe a lot of people didn’t know about it. I went on the internet and did some research about who these kids were. These are all kids who were very poor. They had never seen grass before. It was a total underdog story. As soon as I started researching, I knew I wanted to be part of this project. For Latins, it’s a very positive story and has positive images for kids, too.
Did you get to meet anyone from the Macias family?
I met the son [Angel]. He’s in his 60s. I really talked to him about his experience and what it was like. It was great when we were shooting in Monterrey, Mexico because we had a lot of the players that actually played on the team. It was very emotional for them after 50 years for their story to be told. It was really inspirational for them and for us as well.
Does that put added pressure on you to help get this story right for these men?
Yeah, it did because this story means a lot to Mexico and to the people of Monterrey. Mexico is getting such a bad rap these days with everything that is happening there. The fact that this is a positive story about Mexican kids, I think was something that needed to be said and needed to be shown. There’s pride in wanting this movie to get out to the people and to share this story.
Are you a baseball fan yourself and if so is it safe to assume you root for the Yankees since you’re originally from New York?
Yeah, I am a baseball fan. I do love the Yankees. But now I’m working here in Miami so I want to be a little more involved with the Marlins. I love baseball. It’s a great time of year right now because the season just started. It’s also perfect timing for this movie because little league kids can go see this movie and support it. It really is a great Latin story. It’s great to see our images in Hollywood in such a positive light.
Tell me a bit about Corra Films.
Yeah, it’s a production company that I have where we’re acquiring different projects. I had to put it on hold for a while because I was working. I’m trying to crank up some projects that we can work with. Now that we are in Florida, I think we can find more bilingual and Latin projects we can be involved in.
The whole idea of Corra Films is about Latinos making movies for Latinos. Why is this something we need in the industry? Have you seen a positive change since you started your career?
Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of positive change. When I started in this business I always played Drug Dealer No. 4 or Pimp No. 6. I think because of our image in the United States and the power we have as Latins politically and the fact that there are so many of us as consumers, I think Hollywood has realized we are an audience. I think there is a movement in Hollywood to get Latin influence in television and film.
Why do you think no one has really stepped up to tell Latino stories like Tyler Perry has done for black audiences?
I think as Latinos we are sometimes divided by our cultures. There’s Puerto Ricans and Colombians and Cubans and Mexicans and Guatemalans. We all have our idiosyncrasies in our cultures. What really connects us is our language. I think it’s harder because we are so different as a culture.