Among the many clichés that animate the bland inspirational sports movie The Perfect Game is the overused device of presenting historical events via black-and-white newsreel, then having the newsreel wipe to the color of the rest of the film. It’s visual shorthand to suggest period—here, the 1957 Little League World Series—but it’s mainly a cheap trick to establish veracity, or at least the historic-esque veneer of it. The Perfect Game is all veneer, a paper-thin telling of a genuinely remarkable story that lifts the bullet points of a Mexican team’s unprecedented run through the Little League World Series, and fills out the rest with stereotypes and rank sentimentality. All of this is more or less business as usual for director William Dear, who has devoted much of his career to family-oriented sports films with a Christian bent, like Angels In The Outfield and last year’s dismal Free Style.
The Perfect Game is a notch above Dear’s other work, mostly due to the overqualified cast, stocked with such character actors as Cheech Marin, Emilie de Ravin (who’s actually bad as a tough-talking newspaperwoman), Bruce McGill, Louis Gossett Jr., and David Koechner. Better known for darker turns in films like Traffic and Capote, Clifton Collins Jr. does well with the more genteel role of the coach, a former St. Louis Cardinals towel-boy (he claims “assistant manager”) whose foul temperament has left him exiled in the industrial city of Monterrey, Mexico. A team of scrappy, undersized boys wrests him out of his stupor and convinces him to lead them to under-12 glory. Under his relentless discipline, they win a spot in the Little League World Series, but they have to contend with doubters, bigots, and assorted other obstacles.
Few of the scenes in The Perfect Game feel authentic, but the ones in Monterrey are especially lacking in flavor: Dear shoots the city as a generic Mexican village with chickens in the street, soot-covered men making sparks for a despotic steel-mill foreman, and the children fashioning balls out of repurposed strips of rubber, bats out of whittled tree limbs, and backstops out of a board and a bucket. These humble circumstances are intended to make the Monterrey of The Perfect Game into something like the downstate heroes of Hoosiers, but without the distinct local color. As ever, Dear mistakes a patchwork of clichés for a tapestry.