Freddie Prinze Jr.’s movie career continues with “Summer Catch,” and if that’s not enough to bring fear to the hearts of intelligent moviegoers everywhere, this will: it’s a sports-themed romantic comedy-drama. “Romantic comedy” as in giving his target teenybopper audience all that lovey-dovey crap that first endeared him to the shrieking “TRL” demographic with 1998’s She’s All That; “sports-themed” as in Prinze trying to show to any guys in the theatre that he isn’t such a girlyman; and, most painful of all, “drama” as in Prinze wanting to prove to his many (justified) critics that he, in fact, does possess range. I’m sure he has one, but this is acting, not kitchen appliances, we’re talking about here, and “Summer Catch” won’t hold much, if any, appeal to anyone outside Prinze’s limited fan base.
This fact is made all too explicitly clear in the opening stages of the film when Prinze’s Ryan Dunne runs around a baseball field… wearing only women’s thong underwear. From this point, it’s obvious that the appeal of the story of “Summer Catch” is moot; one’s enjoyment of the film is ultimately tested by whether or not such an image of a bare-assed Prinze sets off one’s gag reflex. But without such a scene, perhaps the story would have been just as boring to teenage girls as it would be to anyone else. Ryan is a pitcher for a team in the Cape Cod Baseball League; for one reason or another, the current season is his last chance to catch the attention of pro scouts. But his focus on the game is shaken when he falls for the wealthy Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel), for whose family he and his father do gardening work.
Thus begins all sorts of purported drama revolving around class differences, following your heart, believing in your abilities, and so on. Director Mike Tollin and writers Kevin Falls and John Gatins’ already humdrum material is made more vapid by the leads. Biel, who rather distressingly looks at least a full decade older than her 19 years, is at least only flat and unconvincing in her handful of “dramatic” scenes, which is more than can be said for the ever-embarrassing Prinze. His attempt at an accent comes and mostly goes, and as in all his previous films, he uses the same eyes bulging/mouth agape look to convey the entire spectrum of emotions.
Prinze’s lack of any acting talent is the only source of laughs in “Summer Catch.” The intentional comedic element in the film is either tired or just plain stupid. Falling into the former category is Matthew Lillard, once again playing goofy sidekick to Prinze (which he will yet again do in next year’s “Scooby-Doo”). In the latter category are the inordinate number of jokes involving women’s lingerie: Lillard is also seen in a thong; a heavy-set woman is shown in revealing lingerie (just one of the film’s oh-so-funny jokes at the expense of larger women); and, most bizarre of all, an uncredited, lace-clad Beverly D’Angelo plays a character who apparently likes to put fruits and vegetables in her nether regions.
True to sports movie formula, “Summer Catch” ends with a big game scene. Just like the rest of the film, there are no surprises to be had — except that somehow, some way, the fluke that is Freddie Prinze Jr.’s film career has managed to go on for another couple of hours.