We have ‘high’ hopes for this team.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/16/2010
Director: William Dear
Cast: Clifton Collins Jr., Cheech Marin, Moises Arias, Jake T. Austin, Gabriel Morales, Ryan Ochoa, Carlos Padilla, Jansen Panettiere, Mario Quinonez Jr., Anthony Quinonez, Alfredo Rodríguez, Carlos Gómez, Emilie de Ravin, Patricia Manterola, John Colthran Jr., Louis Gossett Jr., Bruce McGill, David Koechner, Frances Fisher

Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The home of the Little League World Series. It has played host to many great games and memorable moments for those who follow the sport. In 1957, it was the site for a memorable run by a Mexican team that defied the odds and helped to show that baseball isn’t a game just for Americans.

In “The Perfect Game”, which is based on this true story, a group of underprivileged kids from working class families are coached up by Clifton Collins Jr., who had learned the game while trying to secure a job with the St. Louis Cardinals and their dreams are fostered by a local priest (Cheech Marin) in Monterrey, Mexico. They defy the odds and work their way through the Little League regional tournament to gain a berth in the Championship in Williamsport.

It is 1957 so racism and segregation play key factors. These elements work for the most part, as simply ignoring these social issues to focus on the baseball would be insincere. Sadly, the home issues for the boys, Collin’s love interest and the side story regarding a reluctant Texan reporter (Emilie de Ravin) fall flatter than roadkill. However, the lack of consistency to the film’s story development and tone aren’t the only problem.

The elephant in the room is the production value. While I’m not all at all put off by low budget, if an element becomes distracting because of how poorly done it is, just save the money and go without it. From digital smoke added to smoke stacks to “show” the audience they work to a badly done flashback sequence where director William Dear decided that going with an ultra over-exposed look would help audiences understand it was a flashback (when instead it’s just annoyingly bright and looks like amateur hour), time and time again it seemed that rather than work creatively in front of the camera to solve a problem, the answer was to use bad post production.

I do understand the idea of hiring him on as a director, seeing as he has done a baseball move before (“The Sandlot 3″) but after seeing this, I’m not going anywhere near that sequel. It’s bad enough that the ancillary elements that some might consider character development are merely distractions from the boys’ journey to Williamsport history, but even the baseball scenes themselves lack drama or a sense of authenticity. And when seeing the side by side comparisons of the actors versus the real kids, it becomes even more confusing as most of the child actors looked nothing like their counterparts and that wouldn’t be so bad … if their acting or baseball skills made up for the issue … they don’t.

And as much as I’d like to say the adults did much better, I again must point to some poor direction that made it difficult not to cringe or laugh at scenes that should require neither. First of all, Clifton Collins Jr. is an underrated actor who’s been stuck with bit parts for years. I had high hopes that with a starring role, people could really see what he’s capable of. Here, however, his performance seems so closed off and forced. Often, I wondered if the only word given to him for motivation was ‘constipated’. And he’s not alone.

Carlos Gómez plays the father of one player, who’s ravaged by the death of his other son and unable to show his love for the family he has left. Like Collins, he seems a prune short of relief often and never finds a happy medium between emotional extremes. Emilie de Ravin is capable of a decent American accent and I’ve seen her in better films and TV shows. Dear decided that her overblown accent and hammy performance was good enough for the final cut. As the director, it’s his job to get the performances he wants out of the actors.

While I could see one actor or maybe two going astray simply because of bad casting or maybe some inability to co-exist with the director’s ideas, it seemed to be across the board. And the random inclusions of Frances Fisher, Louis Gossett Jr. and David Koechner only further disjointed the production. Each add some much needed energy to the film but felt like additions made for help in financing the film, not like an organic inclusion.

Perhaps the only person who seemed to escape without seeming an over-exaggeration is Cheech Marin. I have no idea how but he managed to layer his character with a nice balance of humor and heart. While everyone else around him seemed to be floundering, he helped to keep the production grounded enough to allow for some connection to the story … though only just.

Still, if you’re a sucker for sappy films about kids and can get past a lack of direction and poor production value, you’ll like “The Perfect Game” just fine. I can see how audiences less concerned with film technique would ignore these issues. However, a 2.5 out of 5, while I appreciate the amount of heart and find the story interesting, there were just too many problems with the film to give it a passing grade.