Directed by John Lee Hancock starring Dennis Quaid, Rachel Griffiths and Brian Cox.
Jimmy Morris (Quaid) and what might have been. A star baseball pitcher when he was a kid, Jimmy's army Dad (Cox) moved around so much he couldn't stay in one place long enough to hone his gift. Eventually the family settled in Big Lake, a Texas town where the game didn't even register with the locals. And while Jimmy made it to play baseball in college, his shoulder acted up, forcing him return to Big Lake as a chemistry teacher.
Now he coaches the High School team, free spirits who sense how good their boss had it in him to be. So with the team losing every match the players strike a deal with Jimmy: if they win the District Title, he must go to an open trial for the semi-pro leagues. He agrees, knowing there's no chance of him having to make a fool of himself. But when his boys go on a 14-game unbeaten run, Jimmy can't hide any longer.
There's a poignancy to watching Quaid, who should have been an A-list star but didn't get the roles he was capable of, playing a man who missed the chance to see if he was good enough. But despite his performance and back up from Griffiths and Cox, 'The Rookie' never hammers home the drama of this true story. It's pleasant but predictable and needed more time to study Jimmy when he steps up to the plate to face his destiny.
The Robert Redford starring in 'The Natural' did many of the themes on offer here with far greater depth and style, but the film resorting to cliché isn't half as galling as the fact that it feels like the editing is sloppy. Examples? We see Jimmy with a younger brother at the start but never see him again, we aren't told why his parents split up or how his shoulder injury cleared up, and a reference to nuns blessing the ground at Big Lake also deserved more screen time.
All of these cracks could have been papered over if Hancock had added more scenes between Quaid and Cox. Instead their relationship, or lack of one, is never properly developed and resolves itself far too easily by the close.
Credit to the actors for still making it such a heartwarming affair, but like its leading character, 'The Rookie' had the potential to be so much more. If ever a film was made for Sunday afternoon TV this is it.