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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

Safe! Dennis Quaid hits a home run in 'The Rookie'

By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service

THE ROOKIE (Rated G) Three-and-a-Half Stars (Good-to-Excellent)

The unlikely but true story of baseball's oldest rookie — and how he got there — told in an affecting, sometimes-poetic tale. Dennis Quaid, Brian Cox and Rachel Griffiths co-star for director John Lee Hancock. Disney, 129 mins.

"The Rookie" seems too good to be true. Except, it is; and that's precisely what makes the story so special.

Dennis Quaid is marvelous as Jim Morris, an unlikely sports hero who becomes the oldest rookie in major league baseball. How the guy gets to that point is even more improbable, and the heart of this enticing film, which is based on a true story.

In 1999, the 35-year-old Morris was a high-school science teacher in a dusty West Texas town, and coaching the hapless school baseball team.

As a young man, Morris had dreams of big-time baseball — and even had a brief spell in the minor leagues before a catastrophic shoulder-injury ended his career. With that dream long-ago shelved, Morris is content as a husband, father, teacher and coach.

His chief goal now is to turn around the loser attitudes of his high school ballplayers.

Meanwhile, the youngsters have begun to notice something special when the coach pitches batting practice: He's good and he's very fast.

The players make him a deal. If they win their district championship, he must agree to show up at a major league baseball tryout and give pitching a shot.

Thus, viewers are treated to two old standbys of the sports movie — a young team trying to turn around its fortunes, and an old veteran looking for redemption. But since it's true, even those cliches are refreshed.

Adding texture and heart to the story are Morris' personal relationships.

There's a difficult, unexpressive father, played by the superb Brian Cox. He has shown little interest in Morris' dream and has kept himself emotionally distant from his son, both when he was a youngster and now that he's a grown man.

And there's a steadfast wife (played by another first-rate actor, Rachel Griffiths), who wants what's best for her husband, whether or not that includes his dream.

As he did with his script for "Finding Forrester," writer Mike Rich uses a sport to work out more universal themes, including relationships with fathers (or father figures), as well as the idea of never giving up on a dream.

And director John Lee Hancock, a frequent Clint Eastwood collaborator, contributes a lot of dusty and downright-poetic West Texas imagery, in the tradition of "The Last Picture Show," as well as appropriate country and rockabilly music to enhance the mood.

And then there's the quirky little framing device involving two nuns, but I'll let you discover that for yourself.

Though he's 47, Quaid looks a decade younger, and has maintained an athletic shape and attitude. He's believable on a pitching mound.

Quaid also comes by his Texas ambiance naturally, since he's a Houston native. But he also adroitly handles the emotional complexity of the role, especially in the scenes with his difficult father.

You'll be tempted to think of "The Rookie" as a family film — because it's rated G — and that's not always a good thing. And you'll assume it's a sports movie — because it's about baseball — and that, too, can limit a potential audience.

"The Rookie" is, of course, both of those things.

But, like 1999's "A Straight Story," it transcends the bland mediocrity of too many G-rated "family films."

And, like "Field of Dreams" and "Remember the Titans," it's about more than its sport.

Rated G.