As much as I wanted “The Perfect Game” to be a fearless Mexican version of “The Bad News Bears,” the picture just wasn’t in a wish-granting mood.
More of an inspirational tale compounded with a true story, “Game” is a feature of sheer earnestness, which tends to grate and persuade with equal determination. However, it’s easy to praise the film’s gushing heart, which might be enough to satisfy less demanding audience members in the mood for a few smiles and cheers; a sparkling tale of baseball triumph ideally issued for the first week of the season.
In 1957, Cesar (Clifton Collins, Jr.) was a former employee of the St. Louis Cardinals who returned to his Monterrey, Mexico home to bury his shame in the steel mills of the city. Finding the game of baseball alluring and domestically fulfilling, the local boys pester Cesar to become their coach, eager to master the sport despite their size and economic reality. Tentatively agreeing, Cesar attempts to whip the boys into a team, joining the Little League system only to play a few friendly games. When the boys end up on a championship streak, Cesar is determined to keep the kids on task, while the outside world prods them with the reality of racism and general sporting discouragement.
Directed by William Dear (“Harry and the Hendersons”), “The Perfect Game” is a benign story of underdogs and Mexican spirit, never once betraying its family friendly tone, helped in great part by a religious angle, as the boys enjoy guidance from a local priest (Cheech Marin). I would never fault the film for being welcoming, but Dear dumps in the gee-willikers by the truckload, dishing up the vanilla flavoring to a point where the film comes across more as parody, not just overpowering sincerity. Think lots of lessons learned, inspiring speeches made, and visa miracles received; without a counterpoint to all of this encouragement, the feature’s bright side all the more blinding.
Communicated in a broad soap opera fashion, it takes a great amount of patience to endure some of these performances and the screenplay’s unsophisticated hysteria. Again, “Perfect Game” has its heart in the right place, but it finger-paints its morals and characterizations, making sure emotions and motivations are broadcast at top volume, lest those in the back row fail to immediately compute why American-bred racism is ugly or how grief darkens the soul. It’s almost irritating how over the top this film tends to push just to make simple dramatic points, flailing in vain when subtlety would pack a more direct punch. Thankfully, the baseball encounters are impressively juvenile in appearance (with a believable retro feel), making the sporting sequences compelling as the Monterrey boys come together as a team.
“The Perfect Game” isn’t something I would wholeheartedly recommend to the greater populace, but I understand that it’ll please a great number of moviegoers. It sustains a gentle spirit and tells a terrific tale of sporting accomplishment that still stands to this day. It’s unforgivably clunky at times, but as a whole, the picture is innocuous enough to give family audiences a decent underhand pitch of approachable hopes and dreams.Rating: B-