by David Cornelius
You know what they say about good intentions. “Mickey,” from writer/producer John Grisham, is overflowing with them - but it’s also overflowing with all the wrong results. The film is an attempt to blend the feel-good qualities of a family baseball picture with a drama that deals with the ethical quandaries of kids who cheat their way through Little League. The result is an awkward - and oftentimes offensive - apology for dishonesty.The film, the first drama from comedy director Hugh Wilson (“WKRP In Cincinnati,” “Police Academy”), stars Harry Connick, Jr., as small town lawyer Tripp Spence, a nice fella who just happens to be knee-deep in tax fraud. But that’s OK, see, since it’s all on account of his wife dying last year, or something. Anyway, the IRS (personified as greasy bureaucrats who only exist to audit poor, helpless lawyers - perhaps Grisham got audited recently, and this is his revenge?) is hot on his tail, so Tripp rounds up his son Derrick (rookie Sean Salinas), gets a couple fake IDs, and heads to Vegas, where the two can now live in hiding as “Glen” and “Mickey.”
"Remember, when you cheat, you make an 'eat' out of 'c' and 'h.'"
But Tripp’s enough of a jerky sports-crazed dad that he convinces his baseball star son to relive the last year of Little League that he missed during the evasion; Derrick’s 13, but his fake birth certificate lists him as being 12 - the oldest a kid can be eligible to play in the league. Yeah, it’s cheating, but that’s OK, because hey, Tripp and Derrick really like baseball, or whatever. Besides, Grisham’s narration tells us how the last year of a boy’s Little League is the most important, and who can blame this law-breaking lawyer from bending the rules so his son can enjoy one more year of innocence? Especially if dad works so darn hard to make sure his son lands a top spot on the city’s best team? Right? Sigh.
Actually, so far, it’s not too bad. Connick’s always a solid performer, and Salinas is so sharp that you’d never guess he’s new to acting. The early scenes of the film, although they’re too pushy in their failed efforts to paint Tripp as a super nice guy, make for an interesting take on sports dads and how some of them put too much pressure on their kids, sort of a dumbed down “Friday Night Lights” situation. It’s light and naïve, to be sure (the script makes nothing about Tripp dating his son’s new principal, an embarrassingly underwritten role), but it’s harmless enough, I suppose. (Mike Starr’s role as the good guy coach of the impossibly good team helps balance out Tripp’s weaselness; the coach, even though he fights to win and probably knows Mickey’s way too old, still gets to redeem himself with plenty of speeches about good sportsmanship.)
But then comes the film’s second half, and everything that hadn’t soured yet does so, and how. (I’ll announce a spoiler warning here, even though the DVD box and the movie’s trailer both give the following information away. Consider yourself duly warned.) Because he’s so damn good as a pitcher, what with being an extra year older than the limit and all, “Mickey” leads his new team to the Little League World Series. He also becomes a celebrity of sorts, having the best pitching record in the history of 12-year-olds. Fame, of course, brings back those pesky IRS people.
And here’s where the film goes from harmlessly light to head-shakingly stupid. We’re tossed an entire subplot about the Cuban Little League team, with a roster stacked with illegally-aged players. The American government, represented here by a lively Senator (Peter Gil), decides it’ll teach them dirty Commies a lesson if the American team uses their ringer, too. “Mickey has to play… for the good ol’ U.S.A.,” the Senator explains as the music swells.
(Go ahead, bash your head into something nice and hard. That’s what I was doing.)
It’s all so extremely ridiculous, a seemingly endless parade of bad choices. The scene in which the principal/girlfriend learns of Tripp’s secret is met with… smiles and sweet understanding, of all things. Derrick/Mickey’s teammates, having learned they’ve just been shamed into forfeiting a championship, greet their betrayer with… hugs and thank-yous. And every time we see the Cuban or Latin American teams play baseball, the soundtrack is filled with… stereotypical salsa music. (Which, to be honest, is better than the standard “The Natural”-by way of-“Rocky IV” musical score that fills the rest of the movie, and which accompanies one too many montages. Oh, the humanity!)
The message of “Mickey,” plain and simple, is that cheating’s OK, everyone does it, nobody gets hurt. (Even Tripp’s eventual jail sentence is shrugged off by the film as no biggie.) Let all the cheaters play, the film tells us. Levels out the playing field. (Say, isn’t that the same reasoning used by steroid defenders?) The entire film can be boiled down into one line of teary-eyed dialogue, from Derrick to his dad: “You didn’t teach me how to cheat. You taught me to be a better ball player!”Um, what? In dressing up their movie in charming PG-rated baseball atmosphere, Grisham and Wilson try to pass off a series of horrible lessons as family-friendly entertainment. “Mickey” is a 105-minute defense of prick behavior disguised as a good-natured “Sandlot”-ish heartwarmer. It’s shameful and embarrassing. And, to top it all off, it’s not even a decently made movie. Where are the Bad News Bears when you need ’em?
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=9284&reviewer=392
originally posted: 03/07/05 19:32:15