Conor OíNeill (Keanu Reeves) is a sports gambler and all time loser, whose buddy in the corporate world changes his life when instead of lending him money to bail Conor out of a gambling debt jam, he pays him a generous salary to coach kids from the poor projects in baseball. Conor finds the assignment tough to start with, but grows into the job, much to the admiration of school teacher (Diane Lane). But a tragedy dampens the spirit of success. Inspired by a true story.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Inspired as it by a true story, itís supposed to be inspirational, but Hard Ball is somewhat clumsily told and the uplifting elements become rather manipulative. Itís a story with elements of redemption, sport as social medicine, and underdog wins through; and it flirts with a flimsy romance. The black kids are all too cute, too angelic and too simplistically drawn. Reeves is not ideally cast as the ruffian turning a new page; this is the sort of role that needs a Micky Rourke at his prime, or a Russell Crowe. Conor comes off as the rogue with the heart of gold, but with little personality to make us care whether he does or doesnít redeem himself. Diane Lane is wasted. John Hawkes is the best thing in the film, a tacky Ticky Tobin, Conorís friend, accomplice and bad influence. Heís at once complex, funny and sad. Itís not a bad film; itís just not that great.
Review by Louise Keller:
I feel rather complacent about Hard Ball, a formulaic feel-good kind of film with cute kids and Keanu Reeves appeal. I wanted to like it more, but felt rather frustrated by its predictable storyline. It never quite rings true. The key story elements are certainly appealing Ė everyone loves a story about redemption and Reeves is convincing in the role. So why doesn't it work better? All fingers point to the script, which is rather disappointing. I haven't read the book, but the screenplay is punctuated with unreal dialogue exchanges and characters that are not fully developed. We never know enough about the boys in the baseball team to fully realise the impact that the game has on their lives. There are hints, and in one scene when Conor takes one of boys home to his tough neighbourhood home, there is a poignant moment when we understand that baseball is the only fun the boys ever get. As love interest, the sparks between Conor and Elisabeth are rather contrived, and I found this relationship hard to believe. But the boys are fabulous, offering wonderful naturalistic performances, and our hearts go out to all of them. They are all scene stealers and the emotional highs all lie in their soulful eyes and toothy grins. Similar to films like Fever Pitch and The Cup, Hard Ball is about passion Ė passion for baseball. And whether you are interested in the sport or not is quite irrelevant. What is relevant and important here is the impact that this passion has on the youngsters Ė and on us. Of course, that is the absolute highlight of the film. The lead up to the climax involving the team's smallest and cutest, G-Baby Ė effectively told in flashback Ė provides the film's most moving moment, and I must admit to a few tears rolling down my cheeks. This is probably the only moment in the film that we genuinely don't know what is about to happen, and it pays off. If you're very undemanding, you may play less hardball than this critic.
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CAST: Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, D.B. Sweeney, Mike Mcglone, Graham Beckel
PRODUCER: Tina Nides, Mike Tollin, Brian Robbins
DIRECTOR: Brian Robbins
SCRIPT: John Gatins (based on the book by Daniel Coyle)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Richmond
EDITOR: Ned Bastille
MUSIC: Mark Isham
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jaymes Hinkle
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 13, 2002