"One of the most important things in life is showing up," Conor O'Neill (Keanu Reeves) says to the little league baseball team he is coaching. "And I'm blown away by your ability to show up." If this kind of dialogue suits your tastes, so be it. I found this kind of soppy pep-talk, which is scattered all about "Hardball", to be pretentious and formulaic.
"Hardball" is the kind of sports drama that's been done about a thousand times before. Its got an unpleasant ring to it that makes it feel like "The Mighty Ducks play Baseball." For those of you interested in the plot, it mainly concerns Keanu Reeves as a troubled gambler indebted to several different bookies. In order to get some money, he agrees to coach a baseball team from the projects. They are horrible, and he has a very limited knowledge of anything having to do with baseball.
The film starts off uninteresting and stays that way. It seems to have no emotional arc, because even though things happen, they are presented in an uneven and derivative way. For example, there is supposed to be a romance between Reeves's character and Elizabeth Wilkes (Diane Lane), but in no way is it romantic. After one and a half hours it still goes nowhere. It seems like director Brian Robbins doesn't know the rules of dramatic suspense, either. There are quite a few scenes where something big is about to happen, and then the scene just ends. Building up suspense is step one, but you can't satisfy a viewer without a climax. Even after we know what happened in the time we missed, we still feel discontented. How are we supposed to feel happy for someone when it seems like what we're told is unimportant?
And then there are the kids. The actors do a good job, considering how stale their roles are. Something about all sports films featuring kids that irks me is how one-dimensional they almost always are. "Hardball" is no exception. The kids' entire reason for being rests on one characteristic. For example, this kid is the one with asthma; this one always wears his headphones; this is the little cute one. I would love to see a film that would be able to handle the task of fleshing out its multiple child characters; "Hardball" is obviously not that film.
"Hardball" isn't a horrible film, but it doesn't take us anywhere. Were lead to believe that the characters progress to a more mature state, but nothing of that kind is emoted from the actors. The direction is too confused to successfully create a nice, solid work. "Hardball" will work for some, but if you can't stand bad melodrama (or Keanu Reeves' acting, for that matter), this film isn't for you.