Director: Brian Robbins
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, Michael B. Jordan
Released: September 14, 2001
This movie is interesting as it is probably the film most associated with 9/11 that doesn't have anything to do with 9/11 in its plot. As you can see from its release date, it came out three days after that day. I remember watching some documentary I found on YouTube about 9/11 and the aftermath and there was a segment about the pop culture angle. A commentator said this movie did fairly well for a movie of its size at the box office because most people wanted to escape what was going on in the real world and have a temporary distraction and this was a nice, uplifting movie, which it is, but it is also pretty depressing and I think it would just add to the extreme sadness I already was feeling during that time!
This movie is very similar to The Mighty Ducks, as both movies deal with a law-breaking citizen who is sentenced to coach a crappy sports team of ragtag kids. The only difference is that it's baseball, not hockey, and all the kids are black instead of an all white team with a couple black kids. One amusing similarity is that both movies feature an actor who would grow up to be on a TV show. The Mighty Ducks had Joshua Jackson who would go on to be in Dawson's Creek and Hardball had Michael B. Jordan who would go on to be in Friday Night Lights (I wonder if he and Todd were pals? Haha....I have never seen that show, but I know Todd from Breaking Bad was on it). I was curious to see if I would know any of the other kids in anything, but looking at their IMDb pages, it appears this was their only credit or they were in only a couple of other things. Jordan is the only one to have gone on to have a career of some sort. I thought all the kids did a good job in the movie, except for the youngest one who you could not understand at all when he talked.
Keanu Reeves plays the coach, Connor O'Neil, who is a gambling addict and he owes a bunch of people a lot of money. Obviously, he never saw that episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 where Brandon gets in deep with gambling and has to learn a hard lesson! But Connor doesn't have a Nat to bail him out of trouble! Instead, he keeps stupidly betting on more sports games in order to pay off his debts. He goes to a friend who helps him out by telling him he knows a kids' baseball team that is looking for a coach because the old one left and he will be paid $500 a week. Connor isn't thrilled, but needing the money, takes the job. He is the worst coach ever. These are all inner-city kids who live in a bad part of Chicago where gangs are running rampant and he lets practice go on longer than it should have because he's waiting for a ride and one kid, while walking home after dark, gets beaten up and robbed. After the kid's mother yells at Connor for being an idiot, he realizes he needs to be more careful and follow the rules.
Diane Lane plays the boys' sixth grade teacher, Miss Wilkes, and tells them they need to finish their book reports before they can play baseball. She's not so sure about Connor at first, but after all her students are giving him glowing reviews, she decides there must be something special about him and there's some cute flirting that goes on between them. They only have one little kiss at the end of the movie when the team wins the game. So lame! (The kiss, not the game). I would have liked to see more of their relationship and how it progressed. They get into this huge fight at one point (a scene in which Keanu is pretty laughably bad in, but hey, at least he is nice to look at!), but then quickly make up.
One of my biggest wtf? moments is what happens with Jordan's character, Jamal. The other coaches call to Connor's attention that Jamal was born two weeks before the age cutoff and is therefore too old to play for the team so he has to leave. It is really sad and you feel so bad for him. In another scene, when the little bad actor kid and his older brother, who is also on the team, are walking back home, they come across Jamal who has become a part of a gang and acts like he doesn't know who his ex-teammates are. A drive-by occurs and I thought for sure Jamal was the one who was going to get shot, but it was actually the young boy. Everyone comes together for the deceased boy and win their last game of the season as a dedication to him. The only thing is, where the hell is Jamal? He wasn't at the funeral! We never see him again after the little boy is shot. I thought we would see him leaving the gang since an innocent boy was, you know, murdered in front of him! I thought they would make an exception for him and let him come back to join the team so he wouldn't be cavorting around with gang members, but nope! Never hear from him again! So did he just stay in a bad situation while all his friends got to play baseball and have fun? Doesn't seem very fair to me!
I really loved the song of the same name that L'il Bow Wow, L'il Wayne, and friends sang for the soundtrack and am so disappointed I can't find it on Spotify!