Less torturous than The Kid but not quite up to Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar standards, John Lee Hancock’s baseball melodrama, The Rookie (Disney, in general release), is Mickey Mouse corn right down to the cob. With Dennis Quaid’s thoughtful lead performance, however, the film also successfully conveys tentative midlife longing among its Chevy-truck-ad palliatives.
Taking considerable poetic license, The Rookie tells the true-life story of Jimmy Morris (Quaid), a middle-aged science teacher and baseball coach whose dreams of major-league stardom were stifled early on by a series of shoulder injuries. After leading his west Texas high school team to a district championship, the obviously gifted Morris accepts their dare to try out for the minors. Thanks to a 98-mile-per-hour fastball, self-sacrificing wife (Rachel Griffiths in perplexing hausfrau mode), and the support of his entire hometown, Morris manages to exceed his wildest expectations. Even his emotionally freeze-dried dad (perpetually miscast Brian Cox) shows wary pride in Jimmy’s achievements.
With its relentless contrivances and stock Cute Kid (Angus T. Jones as Morris’s son), The Rookie is a wholly predictable affair; if you’ve seen the trailer, there’s no need to sit through the movie. Yet Quaid’s uncertain hopefulness and quiet glee transcend both Mike Rich’s flat screenplay and Hancock’s uninspired wide-screen visuals. By the film’s end, that dopey grin the actor trots out for every role actually feels earned.
National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (Artisan, opens April 5) earns little besides overpowering nausea. After seven years as an undergrad, Coolidge College layabout Wilder (Ryan Reynolds) is loath to graduate until self-absorbed Van Sr. (Tim Matheson) halts the tuition checks. Both Wilders eventually see the errors of their ways, thanks to sexy if curveless journalism student Gwen (Tara Reid). The younger Van finally earns his degree (and, presumably, some nooky), while the elder becomes kinder and gentler toward his wayward son. Enervated by Reynolds’s fey, edgeless Jason Lee shtick, Van Wilder is devoid of laughs, unless your idea of humor happens to be geriatric rape, explosive diarrhea, and bulldog masturbation. But perhaps the film is actually a veiled roman à clef of our current president’s school daze, complete with the protagonist’s vacuous pseudo-charm, predilection for partying, suspiciously passing grades, and ass-saving moneybags dad. The pooch with the oversized prosthetic scrotum? Dick Cheney, of course.