Hardball Wastes A Good Genre Formula To Become Underwhelming

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Real-life stories can be good material for films and movies, so long as the director and writers make sure that the movie plays out well. That’s pretty much the half of the film that needs a lot of effort, because if you’re already considering someone’s real life to be turned into a movie, then it means that person’s life story was interesting enough to adapt. Such is the case for Hardball, a movie that’s based on real-life events, but doesn’t quite turn out to be as compelling upon review.

Hardball follows the story of Conor O’Neill, played by Keanu Reeves, a gambler who’s in big-time debt with two of his bookies. An opportunity to repay his massive gambling debts arise when he is assigned to coach an inner-city Little League baseball team for $500 a week for 10 weeks.

Conor shows up to do his assignment and finds a team of young urban kids from hard backgrounds, and eventually helps them out to the best of his ability in order to earn the money he needs.

Conor eventually gets the team winning, but enters into a new bet in order to try and pay off his already existing debt with his bookies. Things happen and get in the way, such as Conor leaving the team out of protest to the entire Little League. However, their relationships get patched up after Conor realizes he has grown attached to the children, and he eventually fixes his gambling problem. The climax of the movie comes after one of his players, G-Baby, gets hit by a stray bullet during a gang fight, leading to his death; Conor’s team plays the final game emotionally distraught but rallying enough to win the Little League championship.

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Hardball is based on a memoir: Hardball: A Season in the Projects, written by Daniel Coyle. The name of the protagonist has been changed, and I suspect a lot of other elements of Coyle’s story have also been changed in order to better suit the Hollywood formula that’s needed to sell movies like these. While in general, that’s all right as long as it makes the story more digestible by audiences, it doesn’t preclude the screenwriters from making the adaptation hardworking. Had it been, we might have seen better reviews of this movie.

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Hardball, upon closer review, is actually a sports movie with gambling as its subtheme. It’s never really about betting as that’s just the outermost layer of Keanu Reeves’s character; it really is an underdog sports movie, and fans of the genre may find this a little inspiring. However, it really isn’t that compelling a watch, as it doesn’t quite deliver on the formula that’s laid out right in front of it. The baseball aspect of the film is pretty much paint-by-numbers, a bland foundation on which the drama of a young man finding fatherly relationships with kids that need them and a romantic sideplot (facilitated by supporting actress Diane Lane) can progress. It might have been more interesting if it got a little technical, but alas, the movie doesn’t really go there, and it really does choose to focus on Conor’s very adult problems. He’s not even a white savior; he’s just the main white guy the movie focuses on.

Keanu Reeves also doesn’t seem inspired in his acting in Hardball. It’s something you can even notice in the trailer, despite the usual salesmanlike editing. Perhaps he knew that the screenplay was a bit of a dud, but even then, it should behoove him as a professional to do whatever it takes to make his character in the film come alive.

Because if we don’t feel some sort of energy crackling through the screen, then why should we care about the protagonist in the story, and everything he’s doing in it? It undermines the whole thing more than they realize, and some good acting may have salvaged some positivity out of a review.

Should you go watch Hardball? If you want to see whether you can be inspired by the story of Conor O’Neill and the inner-city Little League team, you should give it a try. I wager a lot of people looking for a quick fix of positivity will be able to get something from the movie’s formulaic treatment. Otherwise, for the more cynical members of the audience, you won’t find much to chew on here. You’re better off watching a more compelling classic if you want to feel pumped by a sports drama; and there are definitely a lot of them in the past decade.

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