Final Season, The (United States, 2007)
No one could accuse David M. Evans of a lack of ambition. In The Final Season, he takes a standard sports cliché - the underdog team facing a big game - and grafts onto it countless mediocre subplots. There are so many, in fact, that it would take a miniseries rather than a two-hour movie to tell the entire tale. This would be okay if the secondary stories were compelling, but every one is derivative, so there's not much to get excited about. The film's choppy editing leaves one with the feeling that half the movie was left on the cutting room floor and what's left is both uninspired and uninspiring. Evans' goal is to do for high school baseball what Hoosiers did for high school basketball, but to mention both titles in one sentence is almost an insult to a picture that many rank as the first or second all-time sports film.
To its credit, The Final Season does a decent job of establishing a sense of nostalgia about baseball. Much has been made in recent years about the sport losing its place to football as America's "National Pastime," but in David M. Evans' vision of 1991 Norway, Iowa, it's the center of life. As was the case in Hoosiers, where basketball games trumped all other activities, nothing is bigger in Norway than when the Tigers take the field. (Evans also directly references Hoosiers in several shots that show businesses closed at game time.) Those of us with an abiding love for baseball will recognize a kindred spirit in Evans (whose previous credits include the baseball-themed movie The Sandlot). It's too bad the script he's working from is so badly written. The dialogue zips past clichéd through ridiculous and all the way to painful. If you don't grimace during the kitchen heart-to-heart between Sean Astin and Rachael Leigh Cook, you're made of sterner stuff than I.
To make sure we don't mis-identify The Final Season as the demented formulaic concoction of its screenwriters, we are told (as is almost always the case with a sports movie) that this is "based on a true story." Whenever you see that caption, it's a good idea to keep the following phrase in mind: "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." Hollywood certainly doesn't. The Final Season isn't a complete fabrication, but no viewer should expect to get a history lesson from what's on screen. (Although the news clips are from actual early '90s TV broadcasts, as is evident from the poor quality of the source material.)
Sean Astin plays Kent Stock, an assistant to coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe), the legendary leader of the Norway Tigers, a team that's about to win its 19th State Championship. Unfortunately, Norway High School is about to merge with Madison High School and one of the results will be the dissolution of all Norway teams. After Van Scovoc is let go by the school board for making too many waves about the merger, Kent is lured back from a banking job in Saint Louis to take over the team for its final season. He walks into a mess. The school board wants him to fail. His players have little faith in him. His new would-be star catcher/outfielder, Mitch Akers (Michael Angarano), has an attitude problem. And the team bus driver has a heart attack and crashes the bus with all the players on board.
Sean Astin isn't an obscure actor. Sports fans know him from Rudy; everyone else knows him as Sam in The Lord of the Rings. Here, he might easily be mistaken for a plank of wood - that's how flat and inflexible his performance is. His scenes with Rachael Leigh Cook, who plays his love interest, are especially deadly. Cook is unconvincing as a tough, big city lawyer. She's attractive but worse than Astin at displaying emotion. The two best performers are Powers Boothe and Tom Arnold (as Mitch's father). How bad is the overall caliber of acting when Arnold is a standout?
Here's a rundown of what's crammed into the movie's bizarrely slim 115 minutes. The main story - and the one that consumes the most time - relates to the Tigers' attempts to claim one last championship. Both Kent and Mitch are searching for redemption and they pick up new girlfriends along the way. There are school board shenanigans designed to undermine the team. There's a junior pitcher trying to find the winning spirit. There's Tom Arnold as an absentee father. The town is in pain about losing the school. The bus driver has a heart attack. The old coach is put out to pasture. The priest removes his collar. And there's an asshole rival pitcher who doesn't get along with anyone, including his teammates. I'm pretty sure the kitchen sink can be found in there if you look hard enough.
Sports movies have become so generic and so common that it takes something unusual or affecting to spark an audience. The Final Season has neither. There's a lot of material here, but little is worthwhile. Everyone who sees this movie will think of Hoosiers. The similarities are too glaring to be ignored. But the first thought to occur to most will be to wonder how the basketball movie can be so powerful and the baseball equivalent so lifeless.
Final Season, The (United States, 2007)
Cast: Sean Astin, Powers Boothe, Rachael Leigh Cook, Michael Angarano, Tom Arnold
Screenplay: Art D'Alessandro, James Grayford
Cinematography: Dan Stoloff
Music: Nathan Wang
U.S. Distributor: Yari Film Group
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