42: Not a grand slam, but it's a crowd pleaser

Gary Wolcott, atomictown.comApril 12, 2013 

42 is a baseball movie. The natural time to release one is the beginning of baseball season. And a lot of us love baseball movies.

For baseball movies, multitudes of movie-making sins are forgiven. Bad dialogue and cliche lines, cliche characters with bad acting and -- the worst -- baseball action sequences that look staged.

All are present in 42. However, after fouling off a series of pitches, the subject matter and Harrison Ford's acting eventually help 42 win the game.

42 tells the story of Jackie Robinson. In 1947, the civil rights movement was in its infancy, and we were still a very segregated society. Robinson broke the baseball color barrier that year and became the first black player to play in the major league. It took a lot of courage for Robinson to take that step and for Brooklyn Dodgers exec Branch Rickey to take his team that direction.

A lot of detail isn't necessary because the story is so well-known. The movie's overall theme is the physical and mental abuse Robinson, his teammates and the Dodger organization took and how what they did in 1947 ended up permanently changing sports.

Writer/director Brian Helgeland has a decent batting average. He is more known for his writing than directing. Helgeland won an Oscar for co-writing the hit L.A. Confidential and was nominated for doing a solo at-bat on Mystic River. Fans and critics loved A Knight's Tale. His screenplays Robin Hood, Green Zone and The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 barely dribbled out of the infield.

42 is a good movie, but it often swings and misses. Unknowns until now, Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie play Robinson and his wife Rachel. You never feel like they are in any real danger, or that the teammates or the Dodger organization suffer that much or struggle with the decision. Another problem: The sets, cars and other set pieces look like the time, but Helgeland never quite puts you physically in the mid-1940s.

Strike one.

Another miss are scenes that go nowhere and add nothing to the plot. One involves a babysitter arriving late. That means wife Rachel is late getting to the ballpark. Does she miss something important that Jackie wants her to see? Is there a threat? Nope. None of the above.

Another is the hiring of a new team manager played by former Barney Miller cast member Max Gail. It's an important part of Robinson's story but has no real connection to the movie. It -- like too many other scenes -- is just there. No reason.

Strike two.

Some of the greatest names in baseball were part of Robinson's drama. A few of them are mentioned. Rickey, Pee Wee Reese, managing legend Leo Durocher, baseball commissioner Happy Chandler and Eddie Stanky, most notably. Other players in the film but more or less unnamed are famed catcher Joe Garagiola and Carl Furillo. Left out is the drama of dozens of important players and baseball notables who interacted with Robinson positively and negatively.

Strike three.

The film's grand slam is the acting, and clearing the bases best is Ford. He patiently waits on curve balls and hits line drives with ease. Never known for much acting depth, Ford is nothing short of good-old-boy brilliant and to date gives the year's best performance in any acting category.

Others hitting for the circuit are John C. McGinley, who does Dodger broadcaster Red Barber, Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese, Christopher Meloni doing Durocher and Alan Tudyk as the racist manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.

While all agree this is a deep, dramatic subject, it is also agreed that baseball is a fun game and a fun movie subject. Instead of hitting bloop singles, Helgeland should have given the rest of the cast the opportunity to go for the fences and have as much fun as Ford.

Not all is negative. 42 is still a baseball movie, and movie fans are starved for them. It ends up the best worst movie of the year. To his credit, Helgeland comes to bat in each inning with the intention of hitting one out of the park, and while never getting the home run, he does manage to go three for five.

Director: Brian Helgeland

Stars: Harrison Ford, Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie, John C. McGinley, Lucas Black, Alan Tudyk, Max Gail, Christopher Meloni

Mr. Movie rating: 3 stars

Rated PG-13 for mature themes. It is playing at Regal's Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen

4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.

3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD.

2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.

0 stars: Speaks for itself.

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