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Paramount Studios presents
Hardball (2001)

"The most important thing in life is showing up, and I am blown away by your ability to show up."
- Conor O'Neil (Keanu Reeves)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: March 04, 2002

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane
Other Stars: John Hawkes, Mike McGlone
Director: Brian Robbins

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language,mild violence
Run Time: 01h:46m:32s
Release Date: February 19, 2002
UPC: 097363307945
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
C+ B-B+B B

DVD Review

Hardball was number one at the box office on the weekend following the September 11th attacks, and perhaps it was a film an unsure nation was in need of. It's a crowd-pleaser and, more importantly, it offers the sort of brief escapism often needed. It is a story of redemption, of believing in oneself, and is entertaining throughout its running length, though unfortunately it barely touches the surface of its true potential. Conor O'Neill (Reeves) is not the best person for the job, and he knows it. Swamped by gambling debts and threats of violence from angry bookies, he reluctantly agrees to coach a Little League team in a Chicago housing project for five hundred dollars a week. As Conor begins to coach the team, he sees a change in his own ways, including his love life, as he becomes attracted Ms. Wilkes (Lane), a teacher at the school the children attend. Soon he is wrestling with his options, as his life turns from gambling to coaching and back again. In the end, watching Hardball becomes a lot like skimming the Cliff's Notes version of your favorite novel or play. There is basic structure, characters, and perhaps enough of a plot to propel these things into motions, but the depth of the story seems to be absent. As the film went on, I found myself wanting more about the Cabrini Green locations or the hardships of the players after they left the field; instead, I settled for countless scenes of the Reeves character wrestling with his decision as to whether he should remain coach of the team. Director Brian Robbins and screenwriter John Gatins (adapting from a novel by Daniel Coyle, though I believe that the correct term is "inspired," given the changes) would have perhaps been more successful had they filled the film with a deeper emotional center and offered a stronger portrait of their characters. Consider, for instance, a plot mechanism in which the team miraculously rebounds from an early loss to become a powerhouse in just one scene. In a smarter script, we would have been treated to scenes of the group practicing and improving. I was left baffled, wondering just how they got so good in such a short time. Robbins, though, does exhibit a sure hand in several aspects of the production. A somber scene late in the film is handled with class and emotion, rather than becoming a carbon copy of countless scenes in other films. I also enjoyed how Robbins crafts the ending of the picture, sparing us the typical ending seen in Hardball's predecessors (i.e. The Mighty Ducks) and opting for a more prominent closing statement. Reeves, who can be very good given the right role, is certainly evolving as an actor, though there are moments in Hardball where his performance feels empty. His chemistry with the kids is strong, but in scenes with Lane and Mike McGlone he seems to be trying a bit too hard. Lane is good in her role, but there just isn't enough of her in the film to make her work memorable. Supporting roles by John Hawkes (the star maps seller in Rush Hour, and liquor store owner in From Dusk Til Dawn) and McGlone are well done. Note: Based upon the Daniel Coyle novel Hardball: A Season in the Projects, Hardball was met with lawsuits and even a potential judge's ruling to block its release, as well as controversy that went as far as the Mayor's office in the city of Chicago. The book told the non-fiction story of Bob Muzikowski and Al Carter, two men who created a baseball league in the shadows of Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project. Later, as told in The New Daily News, the two would protest the film, raising questions as to the authenticity of the screenplay in relation to the novel upon which it is based. Another point of controversy dealt with the excessive use of offensive language, most of which comes via the young children on the team. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and other officials objected to the harsh language and considered it stereotypical, as it paints the children in a negative light. Daley apparently won, as several uses of harsh language appear to have been changed to similar, less objectional words.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is on par with other works from Paramount in that it is a very nice-looking transfer, but falls just short of being perfect. Colors are well-rendered, with the greens and blues of the exterior shots looking very nice. One shot that shows the baseball field and housing projects against a clear blue sky is almost stunning in its color. Other scenes set in dark bars or apartments look fine with decent black levels. Sharpness and detail are perfect, and there is little edge enhancement. Overall, this is a very nice transfer, with only a few moments where the print exhibits some flaws.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: What is most surprising about the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for Hardball is that it seems to extend beyond the trappings of the standard comedy/drama soundfield. Instead, we are treated to an enveloping mix that perfectly creates the atmosphere. As Reeves walks through the halls of an apartment building, the surround speakers come alive with ambient sounds of people talking and televisions playing, while at other moments the sound of a chain link gate swinging open shows off the split surrounds. Dialogue is clean and clear, though it seems to have been mixed a bit too low. The left and right speakers, as well as the .1 LFE channel, do a nice job of reproducing the largely hip hop score. Both English and French Dolby Surround tracks are offered, and while not as enveloping as the 5.1 track, they do a nice job.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Brian Robbins and writer John Gatins
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:47m:26s

Extra Extras:
  1. Hardballmusic video
Extras Review: On the surface, Hardball appears to feature an abundance of extra features, though upon closer inspection what is here doesn't really amount to much. Director Brian Robbins and screenwriter John Gatins contribute an audio commentary track that, while not informative, is occasionally entertaining. The two seem to have great chemistry (Gatins wrote Robbins' Ready To Rumble), but there are large gaps of silence as well as some stories that are not very interesting. For the most part, the track is worth a listen for those who like the film. Next is a twelve-minute featurette with the very original title of The Making of Hardball, which includes interviews with the cast and crew, and is largely promotional. The interviews though are interesting, especially those with the children in the film. Three deleted scenes are offered that do not add much to the story, so their absence in the final cut is understood. The three are titled Duffy's Town, The Funeral Parlor, and Talking To The Kids and each run nearly three minutes, presented in nonanamorphic widescreen. Rounding out the disc are other small promotional items. One is music video for the song Hardball by Lil' Bow Wow, Lil' Wayne and Lil' Zane and Sammie; I believe this song is in the Guinness Book Of World Records for having the most Lil' in it. The theatrical trailer is offered in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Surround and is perhaps the longest trailer I have seen in quite some time. Finally, there are three interstitals that, while intriguing, are nothing more that promo spots featuring the players talking about their major league dreams.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Hardball is that rare motion picture that is enjoyable despite its many flaws. This is not to say though that it is a cinematic achievement, but I can honestly say that I did not wish back my two hours spent watching it; at times that is enough to make me say that I enjoyed the film. The DVD is certainly done well, with a pristine transfer and a nice amount of extra features.

 


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