Mr. Baseball

Director: Fred Schepisi

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Mr. Baseball Mr. Baseball (1992) stars Tom Selleck as Jack Elliot, an aging baseball star who is losing his swing.

When the Yankees no longer want him, he ends up on a Japanese team, & still no good. He was chosen by the coach, played by Ken Takakura, who believed he could get life back into the formerly great player.

But Jack doesn't take himself or the game seriously anymore, relying always on goofing off & launching unappreciated practical jokes, probably just to cover up his feeling of being an exiled has-been.

This isn't the sort of film I'd usually watch but as a Ken Takakura fan I had to see how he did in a mostly English language film. He does okay, though the film certainly has problems.

For the longest stretch of the film, no attempt is made to get Ken to speak lines in English, so there is no real communication between the coach & the American player. Their relationship (upon which the failure or effectiveness of the film hinges) is missing from the screen for so long that viewers may begin to wonder just how bad Ken's English could be that he's given only Japanese dialogue.

Eventually, at long last, it is revealed the coach can after all speak English. Ken's language coach got him through the role fine, & one can only wonder at the blunder of waiting so long to get real character interaction started.

Ken's manly & sincere moist-eyed gaze gets him past any moments that mediocre dialogue can't carry. And once the main characters are finally talking to one another, the relationship starts to work, & so does the film, to a degree.

It's a corny comedy with a minor message of self-respect & respect of others, but not always credible. I found it enjoyable enough for Ken's role, & Tom as Jack Elliot was well cast both for physiciality & Selleg's ability as a comic actor. Jack has to go through a change of attitude, coming to respect the team, as well as himself, & undergo special training with his increasingly beloved coach.

There's a bit of a plot derailment in the Hollywood requirement for a romantic interest. Jack's guide & translator is Hiroko, played by Aya Takanashi, an adequate actress who seems to have appeared in nothing else because so many in Japan were disgusted by her nude bath & bedroom scenes with a longnosed barbarian.

Mr. BaseballHiroko is a career-gal who insists Jack appear in nutty television commercials to promote the team.

Jack is continuously offensive to Japanese culture, so of course Hiroko improbably falls in love with him & brings her lover to meet her grandparents & her dad.

Her family is not only thrilled to see it happen (like hell they'd be) but coincident of coincidences, Hiroko is the daughter of the coach! Who knew!

Never mind that the dumbass American is porking one of the natives without bothering to learn her last name, or surely he'd've realized she was Coach Uchiyama's family. It's even so True Love. Gimme a break.

The tale comes down to a big game, Dragons vs. Japanese Giants, with Jack's team, the Dragons, the underdogs. This part was very dull. I suppose true baseball fans will find it climactic, but the cinematic editing tricks used to make the players look better didn't strike me as visually effective. And the jump-cuts to behind-the-scenes character incidents weren't exactly dramatic.

The final theme, of the American player teaching his Japanese players team spirit, was cloying & kind of ridiculous, because they already had team spirit when Jack was still screwing up & not caring.

The story is extremely loosely based on the career of Leron Lee, who had a trivial American baseball career in the 1980s, but went to Japan & had an enormously successful career. Since Leron was a black guy & Tom Seleg's white, many serious storytelling possibilities were stripped away.

A minor character, African American player "Hammer" (Dennis Haysbert), seems to have been inserted as a sort of apology for not wanting the story to be about who it was about. Hammer's presence also keeps the script from having to figure out how to have Frank interact with Japanese players. Frank gains no ties or friendships with any of them, & I dare say the film is infused with subtle racisms of multi sorts.

Other American players in Japan lent to the story. For all its being rooted in some reality, however, it all ends up being Hollywood "feel good pablum." Mr. Baseball is so formula ridden you could tell the story yourself without bothering to watch the film.

But for a Selleck fan, & more especially for a Takakura fan, it is not entirely void of rewards. Ken does get loads of screen time, & the screen lights up when he's present.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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