Hardball has variously been compared to The Bad News Bears and The Mighty Ducks, but this movie strives to be more hard-hitting than either of those family-friendly, comedic efforts. A more apropos likening might be to Dangerous Minds, the flaccid, Hollywood-ized tale of a teacher who makes a difference to her underprivileged students. Hardball is about a reluctant baseball coach who changes the lives of his pre-teen players even as they change his perspective on his own existence. The movie is occasionally trite, often formulaic, and frequently familiar. Surprisingly, however, there are times when Hardball displays some real heart, and that keeps it from being a complete waste of time.
Keanu Reeves plays Conor O'Neill, a gambling addict who is up to his neck in debt and desperate for a way out. A high-roller friend of his (Mike McGlone) offers him a supplemental source of income - he will pay Conor $500 per week to coach a baseball team of children living in Chicago's projects.
A desperate but unenthusiastic Conor agrees. At first, his approach to coaching is perfunctory, but, as he grows to know his charges, he becomes interested in doing what he can for them. His apparently genuine interest in his eleven team members attracts the attention of the kids' English teacher, Elizabeth Wilkes (Diane Lane), who finds herself drawn to Conor, rough edges and all.
Hardball is a sea of underdeveloped plot elements. There's a lot of rich material here, but director Brian Robbins uses it as background color. Take Conor's gambling problems, for example - these are just a plot device by which he ends up coaching the kids. When they're no longer necessary to the story, the screenplay comes up with a way to quickly and effectively remove them. Then there are the...