"Conor O'Neill" (Keanu Reeves) is a gambling addict who is suddenly finding himself in real financial trouble. It gets so bad that he is forced to go to a friend who works in the Chicago stock exchange and begs for $1200 in order to pay off some people it's best not to mess with. Quite unexpectedly, his friend makes him an unusual offer in which he will pay $500 a week if Conor agrees to help him coach a minor league team of black kids living in the projects. It's then that his friend decides to skip out and essentially leaves him all by himself. Although he is promised his money he realizes that in order to field a team he needs two more kids and they are being held back by a mean teacher at the school who refuses to let them play. Now rather than reveal any more of this movie I will just say that it attempted to combine several different cinematic elements into a fairly cohesive plot and succeeded to a certain extent. For example, it had elements of comedy, drama and romance but none of them seemed to overwhelm the other—at least for the most part. It also starred Diane Lane (as "Elisabeth Wilkes") who is always a welcome addition to any film. On the flip side, however, there were a couple of occasions when the acting just wasn't sufficient for the situation at hand which made the movie seem a bit uneven. Even so, I enjoyed the movie and as a result I have rated it accordingly. Slightly above average.
A fairly good ball movie, Brian Robbins' "Hardball" stars Keanu Reeves as a chronic gambler who agrees to coach a children's baseball team in the hopes of paying off outstanding debts. Along the way, kids and adults grow, change and learn valuable life lessons.Formulaic? Yes, but "Hardball" does some interesting things. Like "Bad News Bears" it mixes sentimentality with grit, and elsewhere paints a depressing portrait of urban life, specifically the hardships faced by those growing up in Chicago's ABLA housing projects. The film's cinematography is at times novel – lots of redbrick tower blocks, sunbaked pitches and dank bars – and the always ethereal Diane Lane melts the eyes. Based loosely on a true story.7.9/10 – See "Bull Durham" and "Up For Grabs".
Imagine what Hollywood would make if it combined "The Bad News Bears" with "Boyz N the Hood?" Or "The Mighty Ducks" got tight with "Dangerous Minds?" "Varsity Blues" director Brian Robbins and "Summer Catch" scenarist John Gatins cover "Hardball" with so much sap they should have called it "Spitball." This hopelessly derivative and shamelessly schmaltzy sporting fable offers little that hasn't been done better before, aside from its star appearing in such a movie. Hollywood spouts ideological gobbledygook through both dialogue and actions. "Hardball" rolls back time to the 'white man's burden' problem dramas. I haven't seen anything in the press about Spike Lee's reaction to "Hardball," but I'm dying to know about his complaints. "Hardball" dodges the question why whites are coaching blacks in modern-day American team sports. Is this commentary about the paucity of black role models in contemporary America? "Hardball" mirrors the 1965 Moynihan report. Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan argued racism prevented African-American men in the ghettos from obtaining good paying jobs. Humiliated because they could not support their families, these men without self-esteem abandoned their role as husbands and/or fathers and fled, leaving their wives an awful burden. "Hardball" projects this image of African-Americans in Chicago's real-life Cabrini Green, more of a war-zone itself than a housing project. Lacking black father role-models for themselves, a team of foul-mouthed fifth graders bond with an amoral, compulsive gambler who smokes like a chimney, guzzles like a fish, and frequents sports bars. Baseball redeems oddballs in this bummer of a hardboiled sandlot saga. Reportedly, Paramount Pictures slashed the controversial R-rated version of this rough-hewn opus and wound up with a strongly-worded PG-13 rating. Nevertheless, Gatins' heavy-handed, tear jerking morality tale still comes out swinging.Prepare yourself for the worst if you waltz into "Hardball" hoping for a "Cosby" sitcom. This cynical, no-holds-barred, saga about social conscientiousness reforms the unsavory Conor O'Neill (Keanu Reeves of "The Matrix") after he agrees to coach the KeKambas, an impoverished Chicago Housing Authority Little League baseball club. Conor owes several grand to several bone-crushing thugs when he asks his arrogant stockbroker chum, Jimmy (Mike McGlone of "The Brothers McMullen"), for a loan. Instead, Jimmy pays Conor $500-a-week to supervise a team of African-American misfits. Conor tutors two of them before their tough-minded Catholic school English teacher Elizabeth Wilkes (Diane Lane of "The Perfect Storm") lets them suit up. Of course, each character boasts some trait or affliction that sets him aside from the others. A chubby athlete struggles with asthma; one wears glasses; another isn't old enough; and two brawl like bobcats. When Conor stages batting practice, these fifth graders watch the balls either bounce off them or fly past them. They ridicule each other without mercy. Conor cuts out the name calling, and the boys get down to business. Incredibly, KeKambas' pitcher Miles Pennfield II (Alan Ellis, Jr.) emerges as a strike-out ace. The secret of Miles' success is his Walkman and the Notorious B.I.G. tune "Big Poppa" that he listens to repeatedly and relies on for a sense of rhythm. Eventually, villainous opposing team coach Matt Hyland (D.B. Sweeney of "The Cutting Edge") forces Miles to remove them, and our hero suffers like Samson with shorn hair. The best example of Hyland's villainy occurs when G-Baby (DeWayne Warren), clearly under age, steps up to the plate for his first time at a crucial point in a game. Sadly, neither Robbins nor Gatins tap Sweeney's obnoxious coach for a greater source of drama. John Gatins' convoluted screenplay consists of two interwoven stories: the plight of the KeKambas and O'Neill's gambling habit. The overnight transformation of the KeKambas when Conor takes them to a ball game is as far-fetched as they are goofy."Hardball" hurls Keanu Reeves his most unorthodox role. As Conor O'Neill, he incarnates the most credible but contemptible character in his career. "Hardball" pokes fun at its hero but commendably keeps our anti-hero in peril. Robbins doesn't depict Conor in a complimentary light, until our protagonist undergoes his Biblical Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus conversion and shuns gambling. Conor's transition from sinner to saint is outlandishly melodramatic. Typically derided for giving wooden performances, Keanu Reeves burrows farther into this role than any other.Diane Lane does wonders with her one-dimensional role. Since the kids trust Conor, she warms up to the lout. Robbins, who helmed "Ready To Rumble," never lets the Lane & Reeves romance interfere with the action on the field. Their best scene together occurs at school when Conor accuses Elizabeth of liking him. This scene represents one of Keanu Reeves' closest scraps with acting. Pouring out personality, he indulges in elaborate gestures and facial expressions. Lane and he generate a modicum of chemistry, and they make a believable couple. The plot transition that brings them together is too good to be true, so you'll either applaud it or laugh yourself silly about it.Robbins misses more than he hits in "Hardball" as a director. He makes us aware of social consciousness issues, chiefly the precarious environment where the KeKambas live. Dope-pedaling, trigger-happy gangstas plague the housing project and prey on the kids. Residents huddle on the floor beneath window level for safety's sake. Nevertheless, he fares well with some scenes, especially when asthmatic Jefferson (Julian Griffith) tries to get home after dark and gangstas attack him. This is a pretty chilling scene. Meanwhile, just when Conor believes he is washed up, his luck abruptly changes for the better. Predictably, the KeKambas win the pennant, but not before sudden tragedy of the "Pay It Forward" variety exerts a terrible toll on them. This is the lowest and wildest pitch Robbins makes in an effort to win us over to this maudlin melodrama. Even if you hate "Hardball," as I did, you'll find it difficult to exit with a dry eye.