THE PERFECT GAMEPG
It’s easy enough to pick apart The Perfect Game. The film is overly sentimental, choppily directed, features some “too cute for the room” pre-pubescent actors, and has a stereotypical, backlot-Hollywood view of Mexican life. It also features Cheech Marin playing an avuncular priest. (Will wonders never cease!)
But director William Dear’s picture about the underdog team from Monterrey, Mexico that won the 1957 Little League World Series—and did so in spectacular fashion—is also filled with heart and soul, which makes it a perfect family feature. The film stands up for perseverance, teamwork and racial tolerance, all of which are positive virtues. The Perfect Game sure isn’t art, but it is impossible to dislike.
The film opens with pro-baseball hopeful Cesar Faz (Clifton Collins, Jr.) quitting his job as a clubhouse attendant for the St. Louis Cardinals and heading back home to the gritty industrial city of Monterrey, where he gets a job at the local iron foundry. Around the same time, Padre Estaban (Cheech Marin) is looking for something to keep his young charges occupied, and settles on forming a baseball team—one without proper equipment, coaching or a field to play on.
Quicker than you can say “Little League,” Faz and the kids hook up, he begins to coach them, and they turn into a solid team. The second half of the film is then devoted to showing how this unknown group of niños beats every American team it plays, while battling racial prejudice, immigration laws and lack of funding. Reaching the pinnacle of their sport, the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., they become the darlings of fans and the media, but are given absolutely no chance against America’s best. Because of this, their ultimate triumph is especially delicious.
The Perfect Game is at its best in this last section, sticking relatively close to the historical record, and doing a marvelous job of integrating newsreel footage from the era with scenes shot for the film. This drives some annoying subplots—a father who disapproves of his star pitcher son, Faz’s on-again, off-again romance with a Mexican chica—into the background, which is good news. This kind of clichéd sentimentality is not the film’s strong suit.
Collins, who has done solid work in Traffic, Babel and Capote, is a strong presence here, and seems to interact well with the kids. Marin’s work is functional, and it is kind of mind-blowing to see the former stoner comic playing a man of God. The child actors are all OK, but occasionally have the tendency to perform as if they were in a Dead End Kids comedy. Director Dear should have told them that mugging is not acting.
Bottom line: The Perfect Game doesn’t have the artistry ofHoosiers, but it is blessed with a strong real-life story, and stresses a series of uplifting life lessons. Families will find it enchanting.