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Home Run
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by Jack Sommersby

"Barely Gets to Second Base"
2 stars

More than doubled its $1.2 million production budget at the box office during a limited release, but I can't imagine anyone coming out of it with much enthusiastic word-of-mouth.

Sententious and sanctimonious, Home Run is a well-intentioned but painfully obvious melodrama that doesn’t leave so much as a single cliché unturned. It’s been mechanically churned out by a studio whose specialty is Christian-themed tales serving up initially flawed human beings who eventually see the light and allow religion to redeem them, and this wouldn’t be so nauseous if the dramatics weren’t so defunct and the characterizations so generic. A handsome actor by the name of Scott Elrod stars as Cory Brand, a star player for a Major League Denver team whose alcoholism has started to get the better of him: the movie begins with an eight-year-old Cory getting batting lessons from his, verbally abusive, hard-drinking father; and then we segue to the grown-up Cory pouring vodka into his water bottle in the locker room before starting a game, which leads to him hitting the ball far into left field, amazingly making all of the bases to score, only for the score to be nullified because the drunken Cory just missed making actual contact with first base. Cory rushes the empire, starts a brawl, which winds up with him accidentally knocking over the team batboy and causing a mild nosebleed. We learn from Cory’s tough-as-nails yet exasperated agent that he has a history of alcohol-related troubles, and after receiving a four-week suspension she tries to repair the damage by ordering Cory to go back to his small hometown in Oklahoma to stay out of the public eye and to coach the little league team the batboy is a player on. (Yes, we learn the batboy is the adopted son of Cory’s straight-arrow younger brother, but why in the world this boy would’ve been on the field in Denver as a batboy, even with his parents in the stand, is anyone’s guess. The movie’s set-up has all the ratiocination of a Chinese fire drill.) Cory, who has a ritzy loft in Denver and a beach house in Florida, is put up in a no-frills motel and required to attend daily meetings for his alcoholism in a Celebrate Recovery program, which has a religious affiliation and caters to addicts of all stripes, ranging from drugs to gambling to pornography; naturally, Cory denies he has a problem, and he even manages to get into a drunken-driving accident in an expensive rental car that only adds to his agent’s frustrations. (That black actress Vivica A. Fox plays the agent, and she succeeds in giving her scenes some much-needed pizzazz.) But Cory finds he has some enthusiasm for coaching, and in a particularly appealing bit he tells an opposing coach who’s publicly berating his son who’s the pitcher on the other team to lighten up, and when that coach gets in Cory’s face, Cory, still drinking, delivers a colossal uppercut, which lands Cory in jail again. There’s a tired subplot of Cory’s reencountering a high-school girlfriend, and when you see she has a son about the same age that coincides with the number of years Cory left town on his way to professional success, a mental alarm goes off, and you just know the kid is of as much a blood relation to Cory as you can get. (A non-wealthy single mother not having tried to get child support from a highly paid athlete all this time? I think not.) All the while Cory eventually comes to terms with his drinking, and darned if he doesn’t start speaking up at the meetings after remaining reticent and silent.

While some will feel you shouldn’t begrudge a movie that has its heart in the right place, that the altruistic subject matter should supersede its contextual weaknesses, Home Run is so by-the-numbers and didactic that you can’t take anything in it remotely seriously. Throughout it I kept thinking back to 1988’s superb Clean and Sober, which showcased an extraordinary Michael Keaton as a hotshot Philadelphia real-estate salesman with an out-of-control cocaine addiction; Keaton’s character, who, being investigated by the police for an overdosed woman in his bed, checked himself into a drug-treatment facility to take advantage of its strict confidentiality policy so as to hide out for a few weeks, and the crux of the movie was the character thinking he had to pretend to be an addict to convince the staff while all the time he really was one. Clean and Sober also benefited from a bold and controlled visual schema, piquant dialogue, and first-rate supporting work by stalwarts Kathy Baker, Morgan Freeman, and M. Emmett Walsh; it had an accumulative power that was hard to shake, whereas Home Run is merely jejune stuff so thin it’s a miracle any of it managed to stick to the celluloid. Every one of Corey’s emotional transitions happens right on cue, and because the movie is glacially paced and seven minutes shy of the two-hour mark, you grow frustrated at it taking forever to reach its easily-foreseen conclusion, which is anything but revelatory. The heart of the story should be the Celebrate Recovery meetings, but the addicts mostly talk in generalities and Cory’s acceptance of God practically comes out of thin air -- when he vows his allegiance to Christ, you’ve no idea how this came about. And this leads to a point that’s highly questionable -- only people who become God-fearing can conquer an addiction? The head counselor tells Cory from the onset that accepting Christ isn’t a requirement, but instead the screenplay-by-committee (four writers are credited) swings that way, and you’re perplexed how to read this being that none of God’s teachings in the meetings aren’t detailed. (That accepting God is “inevitable” reeks of puerile presumptuousness.) None of the characters in Home Run have any genuine dimensions, so it’s lucky that Elrod possesses reasonable charisma and gets through the proceedings with his dignity intact. He’s vivid, and while I can’t say he’s got an enormous amount of ability, we don’t mind it when he’s on the screen. He’s no Michael Keaton, but he’s no Kirk Cameron, either. And director David Boyd also has some ability. A gifted cinematographer making his directorial debut in feature films after a couple of ventures in television, Boyd shoots in widescreen and gets a surprising amount of vivacity out of talking-heads scenes that a lesser director would have rendered stale and mediocre. He’s big on figures in the foreground on the left or right side of the frame with the figures in the background soon made known through rack-focus shots, and his deftness makes Home Run play out a lot better than it has any right to. If Elrod and Boyd team together again with a better script, they might produce something worth some serious attention.

As forgettable as the movie is, the DVD release serves up a fine transfer and bountiful extras.

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originally posted: 06/05/15 09:04:01
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  19-Apr-2013 (PG-13)



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