The Final Season is a movie about baseball. It opens with a shot of a cornfield. From that very small amount of information, keen sports-movie viewers will know right away that the following things will happen: They'll learn about how to play baseball "the right way" (lots of defense and bunts; nothing vulgar like homers and power pitching); small-town values will wear down a corrupted big-city type just as surely as bear grease on a tight glove; and, of course, victory will come via hard work, late-inning heroics, and more slo-mo than a bikini car-wash movie. It's based on a true story about high school team from Norway, Iowa, a dinky farm town with roughly 500 residents that consistently played the role of David versus Goliath, taking 20 state championships before the school was absorbed by the county. But really, it's based more on the familiar mythology that props up the sport and keeps perpetuating itself in cheesy movies like this one.
Looking to rebottle his Rudy magic, Sean Astin (who also executive-produced) stars as a former girl's volleyball coach who lands an assistant coaching job on Norway's baseball team, as it pursues another extraordinary run at state. Over the townspeople's objections, the state decides to absorb the high school into the greater county school district and pushes the team's legendary head coach (Powers Boothe) out of the dugout. Hired as a patsy to lead the team to disgrace, Astin overcomes some key defections and motivational lapses to give Norway one last chance at glory. Michael Angarano plays his biggest bat, a rebellious Chicagoan sent to live with grandparents in order to get his act together.
Director David Mickey Evans, who made The Sandlot and its straight-to-video sequel (along with the third and fourth Beethoven movies, also for video), knows his way around the diamond, so at least the baseball scenes run through their clichés smoothly. The action off the field is another matter. The one glimpse into the Norway school system finds the old coach teaching a kid how to whittle down a rifle handle in shop class, yet the two school-board meetings in the film flatly dismiss the crazy notion that there might be some educational value in the country's absorption plans. Then there's Angarano, so likable as the lead in Sky High, whose bad behavior is linked to smoking, wearing a leather jacket, and listening to the Dead Kennedys. All these stereotypes are meant to exalt small-town values, but The Final Season is proof that it's hard to paint masterpiece in broad strokes.