Is there a more say-nothing tag line than the one adorning the advertising for “The Rookie”? “From the studio that brought you ‘Remember the Titans'”–as if that means anything; lest we forget, Buena Vista’s also the studio that brought us the abysmal “Snow Dogs” earlier in the year and the crass comedy “Sorority Boys” just a week ago. But more than being ridiculous in its utter meaninglessness, that slogan sets the bar for this feel-good sports film far higher than its makers have any realistic hopes of reaching.
“The Rookie” is rated G, and while I certainly have no objection to the idea of live action films that are appropriate for all ages, this film reinforces the negative connotation commonly associated with such a classification: clean and sucked dry of any energy. The true story the film tells, though, is undeniably inspiring. A dozen years after his major league baseball dreams were quashed by an injury, 35-year-old Texas high school science teacher/baseball coach Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid) gives it another go at the behest of his team. All the expected notes are struck: his students and Morris himself marvel at his faster-than-ever pitch; his losing team makes a dramatic turn for the better; he tries to hide his comeback attempt from his wife (Rachel Griffiths); he makes gradual amends with his long-disapproving father (Brian Cox).
Despite the inherently moving story and the respectable work of director John Lee Hancock and the cast, something remains absent throughout the entire film: a certain sense of verve and personality. Watching him here, it becomes apparent why Quaid never achieved the major stardom for which he had once been groomed. He’s a perfectly capable and likable actor, but he doesn’t exactly have an onscreen persona that pops–which is sorely needed for a character that is virtually in every single scene, not to mention in a film that plays things so nice ‘n safe as to often play like a milquetoast movie of the week blown up for the big screen.