Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:46 - Released 9/14/01

I hate to keep harping about Keanu Reeves. It's not that I'm prejudiced against the guy—just the movies he's in. You see, they all suck, and it's his fault. It seems that the industry is finally coming to realize his considerable limitations, so the only films he gets are second-rate schlockfests that don't require any semblance of recognizable technique. Brian Robbins's Hardball is a classic Keanu movie: it features a host of stereotyped characters, a plot basically ripped off from The Bad News Bears, and a boring, stunted romance between a handsome but brain-dead leading man and his pretty but underdeveloped female counterpart. I have no idea of the race or background of freshman screenwriter John Gatins or novelist Daniel Coyle, but this film strikes me as a story about black people written by white people.

Reeves plays Conor O'Neill, an alcoholic gambling addict from Chicago who owes thousands of dollars to various thugs around town and hopes to pay them back by making more huge bets with money he doesn't have. He is gleefully joined in this pursuit by his brother "Ticky" (John Hawkes, who adds to the impressive list of supporting character names he's had over the years, such as Schnucki, Crazy, Flick, Stucky, Bugsy, T-Bone, and Pizza Boy). When Conor approaches a banker friend for a loan, he is given a job instead. What a buzzkill. In return for coaching the "Kekambas" Little League team in the projects, he'll get $500 a week plus the warm feeling one gets for "returning something to the community."

The Kekambas, a kind of Cosby Kids for the new millennium whose members are all justifiably suspicious of why the lily-white Keanu is coaching their team (let alone setting foot in their neighborhood), is made up of several easily pidgeonholed character types, so as not to burden us white folks with trying to understand realistically rendered black children. For instance, there's the angry one (Michael Perkins), the sickly one (Julian Griffith), the little one (DeWayne Warren), the nice one (Michael B. Jordan), and the one with the headphones (Alan Ellis Jr.), among others. Names are unnecessary, as they all adhere strictly and dutifully to their types, but one thing they all have in common is the foul-mouthed street talk of the ghetto, which we white folks should know is a product of their environment. Predictably, they start off as a bunch of squabbling misfits who can't catch, throw, or bat, and evolve into a winning machine through Keanu's insightful coaching, all of which apparently takes place offscreen. Meanwhile, he continues to make bets he can't afford and hit on the boys' teacher (Diane Lane), whose excruciating attempt to be coy is hindered greatly by her obvious disinterest in her leading man.

All of this would have given me enough reason to decry the producers' ever having given the green light to this project, but the film tops itself by getting "serious" toward the end. A lamely executed tear-jerking episode, designed to show us white folks the dangers of life in the 'hood, is followed by an inexplicable return to emotional status quo and a "feel good" resolution, betraying the sanctity of what has come before. I mean, if you're gonna play hardball, play hardball. Robbins's direction features unnecessarily shaky handheld camera work, and Gatins's script is replete with sanctimonious ghetto-kid philosophies delivered over weepy violin music.

The last "major" film starring Keanu was 1999's The Matrix. He's scheduled to star in at least two sequels to that film, the first planned for release in 2003. We'll see if he can get some acting lessons by then. Let's hope.

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail