THE FINAL SEASON (2007)
Director: David M. Evans
Cast: Sean Astin, Powers Boothe, Rachel Leigh Cook, Michael Angarano
MPAA Rating: (for language, thematic elements and some teen smoking)
Running Time: 1:53
Release Date: 10/12/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
There's a point early on in The Final Season where one might be tempted to take notes on the multitude of sports-related clichés that are thrown out by the characters. I did, and I do not recommend it, unless you can write in very small lettering or have lots of paper at hand. Credited to Art D'Alessandro and James Grayford, the script seems more likely to have been written by an artificially intelligent database of decades of trite maxims connecting the playing of sports to real life. The characters are not people but vessels for these little chestnuts of banality, which come so fast, they occasionally get their own montage (and, in at least one instance, a flashback). The movie tells yet another story of a small town where the local sports team (in this instance, a high school baseball team) is the lifeblood that connects everyone and insures that the townsfolk have something to talk about instead of farming. I do not understand the obsession, but that does not mean I cannot find myself caught up in it in movies that actually care about the sport, the town, and its people. This movie unintentionally argues a good case against it.
Yet again opening with the disclaimer "Based on a true story," the movie opens at a high school in Iowa in 1990, where girl's volleyball coach Kent Stock (Sean Astin) requests to end his school year as an assistant coach for the baseball team of another high school. The high school is Norway Community in the small town of Norway, Iowa, a school that has won 18 state championships, and when Stock takes the assistant position under coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe), they win their 19th title. Stock is off to big city life in St. Louis, although Van Scoyoc had hoped the assistant coach would stick around for another year. Meanwhile in Chicago, Mitch Akers (Michael Angarano) is causing problems for his father (Tom Arnold), so dad decides to take his son to live with his grandparents (James Gammon and Angela Paton) in Norway and attend high school there. Meanwhile, the local school board, led by the conniving Harvey Makepeace (Marshall Bell), is working with the state to merge Norway with another local school, much to the chagrin of the townsfolk. Van Scoyoc is fired, and Makepeace, thinking the former volleyball coach will make a joke of the baseball team, hires Stock to take over.
One would think there would be some playing of baseball here, but one would be mistaken. Instead, we get a long montage of infield practice and a shorthanded account of the actual games. Von Scoyoc sits around with Stock, spewing lines like "We grow ballplayers here like corn," and "Norway is baseball," and a whole montage of inspirational advice for the young coach. Then, as if that weren't enough, we get the pure boredom of watching an extended school board session, and I was instantly reminded why I got out of local public affairs reporting. There's a woman for Stock introduced here; she's Polly Hudson (Rachael Leigh Cook), the state school board's representative, who tries to convince everyone it's for the best. Stock tries to convince her it's not, and of course, they end up in a relationship. Mitch apparently has problems. He smokes, has problems with authority, and, heaven forbid, laughs when his grandfather says something funny about his father. So, grandma and grandpa rudely and hence ironically start cramming courtesy down the boy's throat, while he starts a relationship with a local girl (Danielle Savre) who's the sister of Patrick (Brett Claywell), a baseball player and big-city hater.
The point here is that one should never, ever question authority, unless of course it's the evil school board that's trying to ruin their small-town values and conspiring behind closed doors. But what of those values? One player (Roscoe Myrick) begins to doubt the team's chances, so his teammates beat the crap out of him. "Either you're on the team, or you're not," one of the assaulters says, and I don't remember baseball having fascist undertones when I was a kid. Add that the bus driver has a heart attack during the fight, and you get your unnecessary but required health complication tossed in as well. There's a big game, naturally, and the lead up to it is montage after montage and corny line after corny line. If one hasn't realized the movie doesn't care about baseball, it will become painfully apparent when director David M. Evans spends as much time showing the national anthem sung in its entirety as he does on the big game, which is only memorable because the cynical player atones for his heretical views against the Almighty Pastime and its infinitely wise teachings by allowing himself to be beaned by an over-90-mile-per-hour fastball.The movie tries really hard to make this an underdog story, but it boils down to a winning team winning more. The Final Season drags itself to the finale, where there's a long pan of each and every trophy the team won and an extended coda to boot. This is a sports movie hodgepodge, neither inspiring nor competent.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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