It’s 2:15 am
I like baseball….and I like baseball movies. The list of quality baseball films is a long one,it is almost impossible to make a bad movie about baseball,even “Major League: Back to the Minors” had its quirky charm.
So when I saw the RLJ Entertainment release of “The Phenom” at my local Family Video for a 1.50,I took a peek….Ethan Hawke and Paul Giamatti are in it? Yeah,this is going to be outstanding and it is.
It is outstandingly horrible,easily the worst baseball movie I have ever watched and I have seen just about all of them.
The plot has young major league superstar Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons) suddenly developing a case of the “yips”. This is when a player mentally cannot make a play in baseball. A pitcher who can’t throw strikes,a catcher who toss a ball back to his pitcher,a second baseman who can’t throw to first base.
There are plenty of well known ballplayers who have fallen victim to the “yips” and have seen what once a promising career end simply because they can’t throw a baseball.
Hopper’s team,the Atlanta Braves,send him to see sports psychologist Dr. Mobley (Giamatti) to see if he can help get Gibson on track.
Flashbacks take us to when Hopper is a senior in high school. He is the number rated pitcher in the draft and is soon to become a very rich teen. He is planning to move his mom into a nice home and is excited by his future.
Hopper is completely distracted in class and his math teacher admonishes him to rise above just his baseball talent. Between this and a dinner at a schoolmate’s home,we know that Hopper is only his arm,he is totally brain dead outside baseball.
When he comes home,his father (Hawke) ,a hardened drug addict and criminal,is home from his latest stint in jail. Hopper Sr once was a promising talent who drank and smoked his talent away. He thinks he knows everything about baseball and ridicules and abuses Hopper. Hopper Jr doesn’t have the skills or smarts to push his dad away and instead takes the punishment.
In the present Dr. Mobley is working hard with Hopper,spending a lot of time with him and things slowly begin to turn around. Hopper is throwing better but still struggles.
We go back to Hopper’s senior year and we see his dad getting arrested yet again,this time at a high school game.
Hopper pushes away Doris,a girl who really likes him,he says he is above her and she can’t understand what he is going through. Doris,who is extremely smart and bright,doesn’t take this shit and she dumps him. He has no clue how to talk to people in the slightest.
Hopper is in the minors now and once again is showed how uneducated and simple he is when he gets robbed in hotel room after calling Dr. Mobley. Instead of going back to his room and sleeping,he tries to pick up a girl at the hotel which ends badly.
Hopper is at the major leagues now and his dad is there. Hopper does better at pushing him back. When his dad says he has a “good paying job at the border”,we know where that is going to end up. Hopper walks away and we have a glimmer of hope for him.
Will Hopper regain his skills and will he ever break free from his father and become his own man? Or will he continue to slowly unravel and end up like his old man?
Honestly,this was a hard movie to watch because Simmon’s turn has Hopper. He seemed drugged most of his time onscreen. There is a saying in baseball of a immature player “A million dollar arm and a 10 cent head” and Hopper Gibson,Jr. is this and more. He isn’t likable and you don’t care for him. Like father,like son would fit the bill nicely here.
Ethan Hawke is great as the dad. Mean,bitter,sociopathic…his Hopper,Sr. has no redeeming qualities. While he THINKS he is helping his son,he is merely greasing the wheels for his destruction and inside,I think he doesn’t want his son to make it,to be better then he could have been. It’s been a while since I have Hawke unleash his inner core and command a role like this. That he does so in a very badly underwriiten script only makes Hawke’s performance stand out even more.
Paul Giamatti is wonderful as well in his role as Mobley. We don’t get a chance to know a lot about his doctor until the last 15 minutes and when we see why Mobley is so willing to help a asshole like Hopper,you just admire Giamatti’s performance as well.
It’s been a while since I have seen Giamatti,one of my favorite actors,in a nice character role like this. He is restrained and full of grace and dignity here.
Are Hawke and Giamatti enough to recommend “The Phenom”? No,there are just too many poorly written and under developed characters and plot holes to go that far. Combine that with Simmon’s drugged out turn as Hopper,a lack of ANY baseball action and you are left wishing you had your 90 minutes back.
The “Phenom” is not rated but would be a hard “R” for language. It has a run time of 88 minutes and a special feature on the cast of the film.
You can buy “The Phenom” on their website.
The cheetah and and I gave “The Phenom” a thumbs/paws down. You would be far better off watching “The Sandlot” or “The Bad News Bears Go To Japan”.
How about you? What is your favorite baseball movie? Share it in the comment box below.
How my UK readers,you can share who is your favorite cricket movie instead.
Thanks for reading.