Hard Ball Review
Chicago. Under threat due to gambling debts, Conor O'Neill (Keanu Reeves) is offered a way out by his friend Jimmy (Mike McGlone). Jimmy will help him pay off what he owes on condition that Conor coaches a youth baseball team. A team of underprivileged kids from the Projects...
Unfortunately, Hard Ball (it's two words in the title, despite what the advertising says) rings false notes from the start. However much he tries, it takes more than spray-on sweat and a five o'clock shadow to convince us that Keanu Reeves is an alcoholic gambler at the end of his tether. Given that, there are a few edgy moments early on. But a major problem is that you simply can't tell a story like this with any authenticity and stay within the bounds of a PG-13 rating. (The BBFC have given this film its equivalent, a 12 certficate.) As a result, these project kids have some of the cleanest mouths you'll ever hear speak. A drugs raid – which has tragic results – has to be played down so far it isn't always clear what is happening. Granted, a PG-13 would potentially play to a wider audience than a R-rated film (a probable UK 15), but the result is so fatally compromised that it's hard to see whom it will appeal to at all.
Brian Robbins's last film was Varsity Blues, which if nothing else showed an ability to film sports scenes to music. There it was American football accompanied by heavy metal; here, it's baseball partnered by rap. Reeves seems more comfortable when he's not asked to act too much, but none of the rest of the cast make much impression. Diane Lane plays a standard-issue teacher role, and none of the kids are in any way outstanding. Hard Ball is based on a true story, but it's been blanded out in the retelling. Robbins and co know which buttons to press and for just over an hour and a half they have a thumb firmly pressed on the big one marked UPLIFT.