Summer Flop

Patient: Summer Catch

Profile: Latest Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicle (Brake! Brake!!) ostensibly about baseball on Cape Cod but actually about closeups of Prinze supplemented with hack plot devices including an ending of such epic preposterousness that anyone with the few brain cells required to write it has to have a mother who drank nearly nonstop while pregnant. Think Bull Durham meets Mystic Pizza meets How to Tie Up Every Storyline in Five Minutes.

Symptoms: First, there are characters who aren't defined by word or deed but by wardrobe (Rich boyfriend? Sweater vest and plaid pants, of course) and who don't so much talk as recite plot summaries—"You didn't have what it takes!" The star-crossed lovers woo each other with Herbalife-like pronouncements—"Why are you so afraid of accepting success and love?"—so that when they finally do hook up, you can't help but feel they'd both rather be getting it on with Tony Robbins. But the biggest problem is this: for a movie about baseball in Cape Cod, there's precious little of either. This is especially unfortunate in the case of the Cape, an area rich in class distinctions and local color. But with so much else going on—underwear gags, fat-girl gags, a ham-fisted Susan Sarandon homage—there's no time to develop any sense that these particular characters in this particular place are special. This could just as easily be about West Virginia coal miners or North Texas prison executioners.

Diagnosis: Moment when the movie spoke to me: "You think the world owes you something?" Yes. Comes to $8.50, plus treats.

Prescription: Stop piling on. What, a movie about the local baseball phenom gone flop because he can't live up to the expectations of his family and town and who falls in love with the rich girl thus exposing the town's deep-running class chasms isn't enough for you? Jettison the rest of the ballplayers; use them as set pieces or to further develop your main characters. Use the townies more—they lend perspective and history, are more interesting, and say things like, "That kid is wicked fat!" Well, the ones I met did. They'll also lend a lot more texture since they're torn between wanting what's best for their friend while worrying his success will take him away. Focus on the place, and we'll get a real sense of what's at stake and, therefore, a bigger payoff. And, while you're at it, tell Mom to go easy on the yum yum juice.

 
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