Baseball movies generally lean toward the mawkishly uplifting, an inclination wholly embraced by The Perfect Game, which resorts to such corniness that one can practically hear the screen crunching. Based on the real life story of the 1957 Mexican Little League baseball team that emerged from poverty to win the World Series, William Dear’s saga is awash in manipulative melodrama, from an opening in which young Angel (Jake T. Austin) is callously rejected by a steel worker father (Carlos Gómez) still grieving the loss of his older son, to a finale that finds young Angel’s earlier proclamation that baseball is “perfection” coming literally true during his Series-clinching victory on the mound far north in Pennsylvania. In between these sappy bookends, the film recounts how down-on-his-luck Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.), having quit his job with the St. Louis Cardinals because of discrimination, molded a rag-tag group of Monterrey, Mexico kids into a champion squad, a task mainly accomplished by making them run lots of laps and having faith in God.
Perseverance, sermons from Cheech Marin’s man of the cloth, and kindness toward others are put forth as the easy-bake ingredients necessary to succeed, with The Perfect Game preaching open-mindedness right up until the tale’s conclusion. But by that point, the team—heckled by numerous white redneck caricatures—has been joined by a kindly African-American preacher (John Cothran Jr.) and a tough-cookie female reporter (Emilie de Ravin) to form a triumvirate of persecuted minorities. No doubt some of these particulars are true, but they’re conveyed via so many sloppy clichés and truisms that every moment is smudged with screenwriter W. William Winokur’s blunt fictionalizing touch. Saddled with material that constantly rings false even when inspired by fact, Collins Jr. and his tyke co-stars prove uniformly unconvincing, over-emoting, and especially in the case of Hannah Montana sidekick Moises Arias, over-doing phony accents. In the end, athletic triumph is accompanied by the attainment of romantic love and father-son healing, as well as lessons about the true meaning of respect and the transcendent power of courage, tolerance and God, a conflation of sports and life’s various facets that’s excessive to the point of comedy.