Nick Nolte’s grizzled, alcoholic recluse mentors Trevor Morgan’s unhappy teen in Off the Black, a heartwarming tale that’s been told a thousand times before, and with considerably more spark. In retaliation for having a momentous pitch called a ball rather than a strike, high school pitcher Dave (Morgan) vandalizes the home of umpire Roy (Nolte), a life-changing event for both since—after Roy forces the kid to clean up the mess he’s made—the two discover that they’re similarly lonely, wounded souls who’d make perfect surrogate fathers/sons for each other. Scored to genial country tunes, it’s an “I heal you, you heal me” yarn in which, in return for keeping the cops out of their situation, Roy compels Dave to pose as his son for his 40th high school reunion, a core narrative contrivance around which many minor ones orbit. Roy drinks to excess (with his bulldog) and makes video diaries wherein he pretends—in an act of performance-as-attempted-wish fulfillment—to be enjoying a content life, all while Dave suffers under the withdrawn silence of a father (Timothy Hutton) who’s still traumatized by the departure of his wife two years prior. Writer-director James Ponsoldt favors shots of a solitary Hutton framed by doorways and a despondent Nolte astride a jet ski in the middle of an empty lake, his portrait of isolation and Roy and Dave’s eventual triumph over it so tired that the film’s revelation about Roy’s waning health proves not startling but anticipated. The same might be said of Nolte’s engagingly crusty performance, which is characterized by the actor’s typical gruff sagacity and baritone drawl (here thick with misery and regret), though there’s something unexpectedly touching about the sight of the heavy-lidded actor pathetically trying to lap up the beer overflowing from his bottle. Alas, even when its star taps into a throbbing emotional vein or lets loose with a kooky wild-man insult like “Go home and suck on your mama’s titteees,” Off the Black remains prosaic tripe, full of truisms and guided by a Forrest Gumpian philosophy that might best be summed up as “Life is like a knuckleball.”
- 92 min
- James Ponsoldt
- James Ponsoldt
- Nick Nolte, Trevor Morgan, Sonia Feigelson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Timothy Hutton, Sally Kirkland, Noah Fleiss, Jonathan Tchaikovsky, Michael Higgins
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