Hardball (12A)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD EXTRAS: Theatrical trailer; Music video; Interstitials; 'Making Of Hardball' featurette; Deleted scenes; Commentary by director Brian Robbins and writer John Gatins.

THE Mighty Ducks meets Boyz ‘N’ The Hood in this contrived and uneven drama starring Keanu Reeves as a hopeless gambler who is given a shot at redemption when asked to coach a baseball team for underprivileged black children.

All the usual cliches are in place, from the wayward friend who threatens to continue leading Reeves astray, to the rag-tag bunch of ‘kids from the projects’, each of whom starts off full of attitude, only to reveal hidden depths much later.

And, of course, a tragedy has to occur - involving one of the children - which provides the catalyst for the movie’s overly sentimental conclusion.

Hardball is that type of movie and while there is some kind of fun to be had in trying to guess what will happen next, the film ultimately fails to achieve most of what it sets out to and is simply too predictable to be taken seriously.

Its uneven tone is also likely to leave younger viewers more than a little confused - for while it is essentially a Disney production about personal triumph against overwhelming odds and therefore feelgood in nature; its frequent ventures into darker territory often feel clumsy and out of keeping with much of what has gone before.

Reeves, for his part, makes for an interesting lead character, exhibiting a nastier side to the Bill and Ted persona which the actor is still struggling to escape from; but even he reverts to an over-reliance on arm waving when he is called upon to get emotional.

The actor is at his best when dealing with the violence-prone bookies he owes so much money to, but seems a little awkward in the company of the kids.

The baseball team itself is comprised of the usual selection of stereotypes, from the fat kid to the angry kid to the weirdo and so on, and all make their mark in some way (DeWayne Warren, in particular, impresses as the team’s mascot), but director Brian Robbins fails to make the most of some promising scenarios as he juggles with the movie’s direction.

As such Diane Lane’s promising turn, as the children’s teacher and love interest for Reeves, gets lost in the mix, while the likes of DW Sweeney (as the obligatory rival coach) play strictly to formula and, frankly, irritate.

Hardball is said to be loosely based on the real experiences of its writer, Daniel Coyle, who coached in Chicago's infamous Cabrini-Green projects, and while the insights into ghetto life suggest that a darker, more adult picture is struggling to get out; its insistence on playing to formula really does get in the way.

The movie, rather like its subject matter, ultimately strikes out.