Conor O'Neill (Keanu Reeves) could have had a good career but he made a bet, then another and another and before long he was drowning in debt looking for loans to place bets to gamble his way out of the desperate situation he has got himself in with loan sharks after his blood. So desperate for cash is Conor that he agrees to coach a children's baseball team in the projects in return for $500 a week. Initially only doing it for the money Conor comes to know the children he is coaching and caring for them as he sees how little chance some of them have. Conor's attempts to help the children impresses teacher Elizabeth Wilkes (Diane Lane) but with his debt situation getting worse Conor's only way out may be getting out of town once and for all.
Something which always intrigued me was what would happen if someone took a much loved children's movie and then tried to update it into a grown up movie. Well having watched "Hard Ball" I now know as this is basically an update of the "Bad News Bears" targeting a grown up audience with a grittier, more dramatic side. The thing is that maybe they chose the wrong story to try and turn in to an adult movie as it morphs in to another familiar style of movie, the inspirational teacher trying to help kids from the ghetto.
So to put that in to context we have on one hand the story of Conor who goes from selfish and not caring for the kids he is supposed to coach to someone who cares and wants them to do well. The other side is that when he starts becoming involved in the children's lives he has his eyes opened to their circumstances and tries to help them by having them respect each other and so on. It is all typical as is the extra element of Conor's good deeds finding himself with an admirer in Elizabeth Wilkes. The sad thing is that all the above lends itself for some gritty street drama but like with the story the grittiness is only familiar and whilst seeing a small child beaten up by a gang is not nice it only walks the same path as other movies making it for me a lost opportunity to do something sharper and grittier than what it does.
Now Diane Lane is nicely cast as Elizabeth Wilkes as she has that ability to bring so many different elements to a character; here she does attractive, strong, educated and so much more to make her interesting. Unfortunately Keanu Reeves is completely wrong for the movie and isn't capable of the different levels which his character needs as he is unable to shift from the drama to the humour to being caring. The thing is that if this had been say a straight remake of "The Bad News Bears" or "The Might Ducks" Reeves would probably have pulled it off but here his lack of range is on show.
What this all boils down to is that "Hard Ball" is a good idea but one which doesn't work because not only does it end up feeling like two familiar stories combined but Keanu Reeves struggles when it comes to the range of his character.
Tags: Baseball Movies