The funny thing about sports is that a fan can know the outcome and still want to read all about the game or watch a replay. Maybe that's why it doesn't matter one bit if we know a team is going to emerge a winner or a loser in a sports film. The journey is as important as the outcome. That's particularly true with Cinderella or David-and-Goliath stories like "The Perfect Game," a 2009 family drama that tells how a rag-tag group of boys from Monterrey, Mexico, found themselves a coach who whipped them into shape so they could become the first non-U.S. team to win the Little League World Series back in 1957.
"The Perfect Game" is a Dove-approved film that's as squeaky clean as baseball used to be before big money entered into the equation. Maybe it takes a film like this--with an outsider's perspective--to make you appreciate the things we take for granted, like a bat and a ball. Most kids in America ask their parents for them or else save their allowances to buy them. But in 1957 in Monterrey, Mexico, a bat was carved from a tree limb and a ball was made by winding string. It was like an American baseball, but without the horsehide cover. In America, kids show up at a park to play Little League. The kids in Monterrey first had to clear the yard of an abandoned hacienda to make a field, and then coax a local who'd been in the major leagues to be their coach.
This feel-good movie stars Clifton Collins Jr. as Cesar, a man with a secret. He left Mexico and the slag and steel mills to pursue a baseball dream, but the pinnacle he achieved was towel boy. When he returned to work in the factories again, it was fine if people thought it was because he wasn't good enough to continue to play or coach . . . because he never did.
One day he's awakened by the startling sound of a baseball hitting a metal bushel basket that's nailed to the outside of his ramshackle place. Why is it there? Well, we suspect it's because it gives Angel Macias (Jake T. Austin) the chance to throw balls there and wake up the man who will grudgingly consent to be their coach. As is almost requisite, Angel has his own problems. Like the surviving brother in "Walk Hard," he gets the distinct feeling that his father thinks the wrong kid died. It's heavy burden to bear, and because this is based on a true story, we are willing to believe that it's true and not just a dramatic device intended to pull at our heartstrings and set up a triumphant third act. After all, the real Angel Macias pitched a perfect game in the championships--the only one to do so.
A cynic would have doubts, just as he'd have doubts that this team really was pushed by a priest (Cheech Marin, as Padre Estaban) to play the game rather than continue to get into mischief, and become so attached to the priest's blessings that they'd refuse to play a game without one. But once again, we are willing to believe it's true, because the outcome is true and we think of it as an Olympic moment--a story-behind-the-story that makes the outcome all the more powerful. Throw in a little "whole town's watching" excitement and you've got a pretty solid entry in the already crowded field of baseball movies.
Disney Channel friends will hardly recognize Moises Arias, who plays the boy who can't hit, can't field, can't run, and can't throw, but is on the team because he helps the others with their love lives. As Rico on the "Hannah Montana" TV show he was obnoxious and cartoonish. Here he plays it pretty straight, or was happily directed to do so by William Dear (Disney's "Angels in the Outfield," "Harry and the Hendersons"). A few familiar faces also turn up. Emilie de Ravin ("Lost") is a female reporter assigned to cover the first Mexican team to win a game, while Louis Gossett Jr. plays a former Negro League star who's empathetic to the racism the boys encounter in the States. To remind us we're watching history, Dear intercuts the main narrative with black-and-white footage from 1957 and some black-and-white segues to fade-in to color.
It all plays out like a formula or a made-for-TV movie, but "The Perfect Game" still manages to hold your attention. That's the power of a Cinderella or David-and-Goliath story. It never gets old, even though we know the outcome. And the acting, the script, and the cinematography are all just good enough to sucker us in. There's political drama, too, and as you'd hope, some of the nicest moments come off the field, especially with a reminder of how segregation was once a way of life in America. There are a lot of lessons to be had, here, and that too makes "The Perfect Game" perfect for family movie night. It's not a perfect film, though. It's tugs a little deliberately at the heartstrings and the set-ups to some scenes seem simplistic. Some green screen work also stands out like Prince Fielder in a tutu, and the power-of-prayer angle might turn off some viewers. But hey, it's a heavily Roman Catholic country, and the religion at least feels organic, rather than forced. I liked "The Perfect Game," and so did my family.
"The Perfect Game" is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, "enhanced" for 16x9 television monitors. Colors hold fast from frame to frame, and black levels provide pleasing contrast and edge delineation. In Mexico the palette is duskier, while in the U.S. it's brighter--no doubt on purpose, and it does have a Dorothy-entering-Oz effect.
The audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 that really doesn't involve the rear effects speakers much to evoke ambient sounds. Mostly music is split across five channels, and crowd scenes at the ballgames. Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.
If the bonus features are extra innings, somebody hit a walk-off in the 10th. There's a trailer, and a behind-the-scenes feature is pretty typical, as is the director's commentary. But it's good to hear Dear talk about filming in Monterrey and the Little League world series playoff field in San Bernardino, California.
"The Perfect Game" may be the perfect antidote to a steady diet of animated films. There are some good lessons to be learned, and this squeaky-clean PG film has the Dove.org seal of approval. It's a welcome addition to the expanding genre of baseball films.