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Baseball saga "Perfect Game" doesn't round bases


Actor Jake T. Austin arrives for the premiere of the film "Charlotte's Web" in New York December 3, 2006. REUTERS/Keith Bedford
Actor Jake T. Austin arrives for the premiere of the film "Charlotte's Web" in New York December 3, 2006. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

By Frank Scheck

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Illustrating that a film can stay faithfully true to the real-life events it depicts and still come across as utter hokum, "The Perfect Game" revolves around an underdog team of youngsters from a poverty-stricken Mexican town who overcame all obstacles to win the 1957 Little League World Series.

Featuring a cast of stereotypical characters including an angelic player, Angel (Jake T. Austin), determined to play despite the disapproval of his father; a bitter coach, Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.), who finds personal redemption while leading his young charges; a savvy priest (Cheech Marin); and an ambitious newspaper reporter (Emilie de Ravin), William Dear's film makes you long for the subtleties of straightforward fiction. The film opened in limited release during the weekend.

Cesar is an aspiring pro player who quits his job with the St. Louis Cardinals when he can't advance beyond being clubhouse janitor. He returns to his hometown of Monterrey, where he gets a job at the local ironworks and takes comfort in booze. Recruited by Angel to coach the team because of the youngster's mistaken belief that he once had played in the big leagues, Cesar whips the ragtag group of players into a cohesive unit, with their religious faith being no small factor in their success. Despite such obstacles as a lack of funds and the prejudice they face up north, they manage to get all the way to the Little League championship, where they ... well, the title provides a clue.

Although the inspirational message clearly is laudable, the film's formulaic and predictable treatment of its subject is far less so. Sluggishly paced and featuring a surplus of subplots -- the coach finds, and nearly loses, romance, naturally -- and running nearly two hours, it also might tax the patience of the younger audiences to whom it is geared. Still, a viewer would have to be made of stone not to get worked up during the stirring climactic section. And the archival footage on display with the end credits provides moving confirmation that the unlikely events depicted onscreen did in fact actually occur.

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