Movie Review

The Perfect Game

Kids save day in ‘Perfect Game’

'The Perfect Game'
By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / April 16, 2010

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There’s plenty to root for in the true story of a group of baseball-loving kids from a dusty Mexican industrial town who made an impossible run to Little League World Series glory in 1957. But much like a Sox starter struggling for the first couple of innings before settling down, “The Perfect Game’’ takes a while to get to the parts worth cheering.

Directed by veteran baseball sentimentalist William Dear (“Angels in the Outfield,’’ “The Sandlot 3’’), the film isn’t just about the boys’ journey, but also the one taken by their coach, César Faz (versatile Clifton Collins Jr. of “Sunshine Cleaning’’ and “Capote’’). A clubhouse attendant for the St. Louis Cardinals, César is spurred by discrimination to angrily depart for steel-mill drudgery back in Monterrey. There we meet a tragedy-embittered family man (Carlos Gomez) who forbids his young son, Angel (Jake T. Austin of tween TV’s “Wizards of Waverly Place’’), from playing ball, and the Dodgers-worshiping town padre (Cheech Marin) with a sage word for everyone. But most important we meet the kids, whose Little Rascals spirit helps distract from the early flurry of stiffly delivered cliches and cloying moments. So what if our gang hasn’t got baseball equipment? In one effective snippet, they fashion a catcher’s mask out of a welder’s helmet and chain-link fencing; in another, Angel stumbles onto César’s genuine cowhide hardball, and naturally assumes it’s a gift from heaven. (After all, it’s stamped “St. Louis.’’)

The story finds its groove after the boys have persuaded reluctant César to organize them into a bona fide Little League team, and they cross the border into Texas — hoofing it the last 10 miles in their cleats — to begin tournament play. Their road exploits are likable slices of Mexican-Americana, whether the undersize underdogs are ecstatically pig-piling on the ball field or demonstrating a youthful, one-tribe obliviousness to prejudice at a diner pit stop. Dear even finds the zone with one of his peripheral story threads, enlisting Emilie de Ravin (“Lost’’) for an amusing Rosalind Russell riff as a gal reporter dismissively assigned to follow the team across Texas — and, to her editor’s eventual chagrin, all the way to the Williamsport, Pa., finals. Meanwhile, Collins gets to bite into some character-grounding material as he’s confronted with the just-a-towel-boy slights of his past, goes on a bender, and jeopardizes the entire team’s visa status.

The climactic drama of the championship game owes largely to the fact that, despite their unprecedented success as a foreign team in the tournament, young Angel Macias and his teammates somehow didn’t go down in history, at least not stateside. Americans don’t know their story, not the way we know that, say, Yankees pitcher Don Larsen tossed a perfect game — no hits, no walks, no errors — in the 1956 World Series. But the movie makes it all seem just as big. In recurring cutaways, Dear shows us folks the boys have affected — diner waitresses, border-crossing customs officers — caught up in cheering them on as they listen to their games on the radio. You’ll be able to relate.

THE PERFECT GAME Directed by: William Dear

Written by: W. William Winokur

Starring: Clifton Collins Jr., Cheech Marin, Jake T. Austin, Carlos Gomez, and Emilie de Ravin

At: Boston Common and suburbs

Running time: 118 minutes

Rated: PG (some thematic elements)

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