Ah, sports movies. They’re a dime a dozen, and they all tend to be tremendously inspiring (even the funny ones), because as we all know, it’s not whether we win or loose, it’s how much you tug at the heartstrings of sports fans, already used to the ups and downs of the game. Oh, and also how much money you make at the box office. Whether it be about baseball, football or even robot boxing (yes, there is a “robot boxing” movie coming out this fall (and yes, it looks a bit “Rock’em, Sock’em”)), one thing remains – there will always be a winner, and there will always be a loser; a metaphor for life, that if you work hard, you can overcome anything. All sports movies get schmaltzy toward the end, but that’s why we love them, which bodes well for Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, as front office men trying to build a winning baseball team in this Fall’s upcoming Moneyball.
Based on the true story and best-selling sports economics book of the same name, Moneyball follows Pitt as Billy Beane, the real-life GM of the Oakland Athletics, who despite having his hands tied with a paltry sum of money to buy a big name roster, put together a winning team by using a new system of acquiring undervalued players. With his numbers-crunching sidekick, played by Hill, Beane was able to look at the stats to find the biggest performers on the field, who weren’t necessarily ready to be asking for big, million dollar paychecks. And history showed that despite having a small payroll, he really was able to make it to the playoffs four years in-a-row in the early 2000’s, a feat that left the MLB guessing how he did it, and copying him ever since. We have to tip our pro-model caps to his ingenuity.
The movie, though, kinda comes off looking like Major League. As Beane is putting together his ragamuffins, we get the sense we’re watching our beloved Cleveland Indians from that late eighties film. As a lifetime catcher, we watch them try to transition Scott Hatteberg (played by Chris Pratt) to first base, as he’s got a great on-base percentage, but can’t stop a ball to save his life (a la Roger Dorn). Their pitching is more likely to hit the back stop than the strike zone (“Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn), and there’s even a shot of the guy with double knee braces, which is almost lifted entirely from Jake Taylor’s double ice packs. But, to be fair, this is a different movie, and let’s be honest, The Bad News Bears pretty much did it first.
But halfway through the trailer, we get the “this isn’t working” scenes; people questioning his unorthodox decisions, a coach (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that wants patiently for this trick to work, and Beane’s young daughter asking if her dad was really going to be fired. But, as these things normally do, the team starts coming together. Wild plays and, more importantly, wins start to manifest on the field, and fans begin to rally behind their A’s. The schmaltzy music kicks in (there’s that schmaltz again!), and we’re left to believe, “hey, they might actually pull this one off!” Could the daring decision to, oh I don’t know, actually put together a good team, finally pay off? In Tom Berenger’s words, the only thing left to do, is win the whole f**king thing.
So, will it suck?
No. Despite the heavy comparisons to Major League, this doesn’t seem to be a re-tread, or at the very least, not one that’ll take away from the film. There’s a handful of comedic parts in the trailer, that should pepper throughout the movie (hey, it’s baseball, not brain surgery!), and even though we know the A’s don’t win the World Series (or make it past the first round of playoffs), we know that somehow they’re going to stick this one out, and that yes, hard work and smarts will always trump big pocketbooks….to an extent. Watching Pitt (who looks surprisingly like Robert Redford) have a go at the majors looks promising, Jonah Hill looks toned down (which is a refreshing change of pace), and Hoffman as manager Art Howe looks to be the strong silent type. And have we mentioned earlier drafts of script were written by Aaron Sorkin, who worked wonders on the biographical The Social Network, 2010’s best film? Not to mention Pratt, who is dynamite in TV’s “Parks and Recreation”, director Bennett Miller, who had a ball with Hoffman in Capote, and co-screenwriter Steven Zaillian, Oscar-winning scribe of Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, and the upcoming The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. They’ve nearly enough to field their own baseball team, and with Moneyball, they might not win Hollywood’s World Series, but you can be sure they’ve got enough juice for the playoffs.