It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"The Rookie" combines two reliable formulas: The Little Team That Goes to State, and the Old-Timer Who Realizes His Youthful Dream. When two genres approach exhaustion, sometimes it works if they prop each other up. Not this time, not when we also get the Dad Who Can't Be Pleased However Hard His Son Tries, and the Wife Who Wants Her Husband to Have His Dream But Has a Family to Raise. The movie is so resolutely cobbled together out of older movies that it even uses a totally unnecessary prologue, just because it seems obligatory. I know, it's based on a true story, but a true story that seems based on old movies..
We begin in the wide-open spaces of West Texas, where wildcat oil prospectors have a strike in the 1920s. The little town of Big Lake springs up, and in the shadow of one of the rickety old derricks, a baseball diamond is scratched out of the dust. Supporting this enterprise, we're told, is St. Rita, "patron saint of hopeless causes." I thought that was St. Jude, but no, the two saints share the same billing. Certainly St. Rita is powerful enough to deal with baseball, but it would take both saints in harness to save this movie.
The story leaps forward in time to the recent past, as we follow a Navy career chief (Brian Cox) who moves with his family from town to town while his son, little Jimmy, pounds his baseball mitt and is always getting yanked off his latest team just when it starts to win.
Now it's the present and the Little Leaguer has grown up into big Jimmy (Dennis Quaid), coach of the Big Lake High School baseball team. He's married to Lorri (Rachel Griffiths), they have an 8-year-old, and he has all but forgotten his teenage dream of pitching in the majors. By my calculations 30 years have passed, but his dad, Jim Senior, looks exactly the same age as he did when Jimmy was 8, except for some gray hair, of course. Brian Cox is one of those actors like Walter Matthau who has always been about the same age. I was so misled by the prologue I thought maybe Jim and Jim Sr. were connected in some way with the wildcatters and St. Rita, but apparently the entire laborious prologue is meant simply to establish that baseball was played in Big Lake before Jimmy and Lorri moved there.