Freeze Frame #119: The Rookie

Disambiguation: Not the Clint Eastwood starrer from the eighties. I’m talking about the Dennis Quaid version where he plays a high school teacher who becomes a major league pitcher.

The Rookie stars Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris, a high school chemistry teacher cum baseball coach who suddenly finds out that he can pitch faster than he used to before injury and a not-too-fast fastball curtailed his career. With the urging of his students, he tries out for the minor league, gets in and spends some time there before he finally makes it to The Show. It is set for the most part in a small town in Texas, and seems to have imbibed a small town rhythm — there is nary a moment when you actually wonder what might happen next.

This is not necessarily a problem. In eschewing plot, it places the focus firmly on the characters. Not that these are compelling characters who burn the screen up with their intensity either, but their innate goodness makes you care for them. The last game shown in the movie is not one where the result hinges on one final pitch from the hero. The pinnacle of his achievement in the movie is as a relief pitcher in the seventh inning of a major league game. Truth be told, you hardly notice the game. You are so focused on the fact that the man is finally living his dream.

Usually in movies like this, the happiness of a supporting character who has stood by the hero’s side all through is something that comes across quite strongly. In Iqbal, it was his sister Khadija. Here, it is Jim’s son Hunter (Angus T Jones). I gotta admit, the kid is cute.

In the scene where he finds out that he has just been called up to the major league, he calls home to share the moment with his family. His wife puts Hunter on, and he tells his son that he’s gonna play for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Now, I had imagined this conversation going a number of ways, but not like this:

Jim: Hey, you’re daddy’s gonna be a major league pitcher. What do you think about that?

Hunter: Cool! Which team?

Jim: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Hunter: What’s a devil ray?

Jim: It’s, um… a fish

Hunter: What color?

Jim: Black

Hunter: Can you eat it?

People often say, “Kids say the damnedest things.” They do sometimes. But more often than not, they say the damnedest things in bad movies that don’t know what to do with them. In the good ones, they have conversations like these.

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