Hollywood has a way of homogenizing even the most riveting true story, of rounding off the jagged edges of the real world to fit the smooth, reassuring contours of formula. It happens again in Hardball, a crowd-pleasing comedy/drama ostensibly inspired by Daniel Coyle's non-fiction bestseller Hardball: A Season In The Projects, but equally inspired by just about every film in which an unlikely coach leads a ragtag bunch of misfits to victory. Keanu Reeves stars as the unlikely manager, a hard-drinking, gambling-addicted, all-around lout first seen sporting the telltale stubble and unkempt wardrobe of the spiritually bankrupt. Morally adrift and plagued by debts, Reeves reluctantly agrees to coach an inner-city Little League team in Chicago at the behest of long-suffering pal Mike McGlone, who agrees to pay him $500 a week for his efforts. In time-tested scruffy-underdog tradition, Reeves at first bridles at the idea of spearheading a group of foul-mouthed project dwellers, but eventually warms to them, although not before a handful of triumphant montage sequences set to the work of noted kiddie pop-star pimp Jermaine Dupri. Dressing up its clichés with a thin façade of sociological exploration, Hardball devotes its best scenes to the harsh realities of growing up in the projects, illustrating succinctly what might lead an otherwise sane child to willingly spend time with a figure as obnoxious and shallow as Reeves. But director Brian Robbins' film ultimately seems as uninterested in penetrating the graffiti-scarred walls of its Cabrini Green setting as its white-bread protagonist is. Instead, it focuses largely, and tediously, on Reeves' arbitrary oscillation between his responsibility to the children and his own selfish needs. It's possible that the filmmakers saw Hardball as a way of putting a human face on the poverty and despair of America's urban poor while still making an accessible genre movie. But in reducing Coyle's book into a sort of hip-hop Bad News Bears—one part There Are No Children Here, 99 parts The Mighty Ducks—Hardball ends up trivializing its subject matter instead.