It’s statistically proven that extra-curricular activities deter the ghetto child from ghetto banging, a theory that Hardball doesn’t so much support than fascinatingly confuse. Conor O’Neill (a surprisingly effective Keanu Reeves) is a down-on-his-luck, overgrown white boy looking to eliminate his gambling debts. Hope springs eternal in the form of an all-black little league team, which Conor coaches for five hundred dollars a week. Hardball’s narrative is patently schizophrenic (it’s part Bad News Bears, part Dangerous Minds); it may go heavy on the sap but thankfully never turns into a white man’s ghetto-cleansing melodrama. Conor embraces a moral betterment that isn’t so much defined by his connection to the team than it is by sheer luck of the draw (his last bet pays big time). Hardball is at its best when it sticks to the baseball field; it’s there that the film’s cast of super-talented youngsters dish out their soulful, quick-fire verbal jabs. (The film, at the very least, proves that wise-ass minority kids are far cooler than potty-mouthed white kids.) Director Brian Robbins wisely underplays the relationship between Conor and schoolteacher Elizabeth (Diane Lane) but stumbles with his ridiculously overwrought portrait of the projects as the black boy’s nightly grim reaper. Since Hardball’s credits roll sometime after Conor’s team snags their league trophy, little is provided as to the long-term effects of the game on his kids. A humbled Conor gives back to the community by becoming the school’s athletic coordinator but Hardball saves itself by never dishing out any easy answers. A manipulative (if not wholly inappropriate) death-wish comes to fruition by film’s end; it simplistically details the abrupt, unprejudiced nature of violence but ironically suggests that the young black boy may need more than little league to dodge a bullet. Tender loving adult care may go far, but survival in the ghetto seems to be one part adult intervention and one part blind luck.
- Brian Robbins
- John Gatins
- Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, Trevor Morgan, D.B. Sweeney, Brian Hearne, Julian Griffith, Michael B. Jordan, Graham Beckel, Alan Ellis Jr., Kristopher Lofton, Michael Perkins, Brian Reed, DeWayne Warren
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