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.