Whooooshh! Striiiike one!
While recent movies like The Babe, Field of Dreams,
and A League of Their Own
trade on baseball's reputation as the archetypal American sport, a feel-good pastime symbolizing a nation's “innocence,” Mr. Baseball
dares to objectify it as a recreation in which East meets West. It's a workable gimmick in this age of reciprocal U.S.- and Japan-bashing, primed for some hard-edged humor, but Mr. Baseball
barely makes it to first base. Weighted down by an obligatory (read: dopey) love story and some moralizing about how differing cultures can learn from each other, this film about a washed-up New York Yankee traded to a Japanese baseball team is as formulaic as they come. The culture clashes are predictable, unfunny -- when was the last time you heard a joke based on the Japanese pronunciation of the letter “l”? -- and rarely subtle. (The best running gag has the lanky Selleck constantly ducking to prevent hitting his head on low ceilings.) Schwoooop! Striiiike two!
Once a director of classier projects (A Cry in the Dark, Plenty),
Schepisi obviously didn't put much effort into this ultimately innocuous film; it could very well be on auto-pilot. Selleck, who has yet to translate his success on the small screen to the big one, makes some progress in shedding his nice-guy image here in the role of a self-centered first baseman who listens to no one. On his series Magnum P.I.,
Selleck played a teddy bear who looked like the Marlboro man. Mr. Baseball
affords Selleck the opportunity to display an edge, but his presence isn't strong enough to carry the movie past its shortcomings. (If the film had been made in 1978, Burt Reynolds could have done so.) Aside from a clever synthesized score by Jerry Goldsmith that incorporates familiar ballpark music, there's little to recommend in Mr. Baseball.
As an umpire would say: “You'rrrre out!”