Directed by Michael Ritchie
Written by Andrew Bergman and Albert Brooks & Monica Johnson
After spending some time with a number of movies I have seen before in the early 90s section of my Baseball movie marathon (last 4, and 7 of 9), I move into a section of movies which I have not seen before and will be experiencing for the very first time. The beauty of this marathon to this point has not only been the ability to re-experience some of my favorites, and perhaps reevaluate them, but truly the best part about it has been experiencing new films for the very first time. The Scout has been one I have had my eye on for some time now, but I never broke through to actually watching it. The concept is novel at this time, and is honestly one of the under appreciated things about baseball, which is probably why it is an under appreciated topic for baseball movies: scouting.
We’ll see another, much more grounded edition of this aspect of the game with Trouble with the Curve, but The Scout allows the viewer a glimpse into what it’s like to try and find top talent, and what it’s like to succeed and fail. For Al Percolo (Albert Brooks), he has seen a lot of failure recently as a scout for the New York Yankees. As a result, Al is not fired, but instead sent on a wild goose chase in South Central Mexico, a banishment from the fertile places for baseball players. But while there, Al discovers his King Kong, the best baseball player he has ever seen, Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser). He can hit and pitch, so Al brings him to New York to impress all the teams. But Nebraska is not without his past, which he begins to hash out with psychiatrist H. Aaron (Dianne Wiest) before he is ready to make his long awaited MLB debut.
The greatest charm of The Scout is the fresh perspective on the game which is delivers in the form of scout Al Percolo and super-prospect Steve Nebraska. The initial setup affords a period of comedy to go along with the story, but once Nebraska comes to New York, the film seems to take a rather serious narrative turn while still remaining somewhat light. I’m not sure the combination works perfectly in concert, as the comedy either feels out of place, or the drama doesn’t seem nearly as serious as it probably should. Moments like Nebraska frisbeeing plates out of Percolo’s apartment window at the media is shot as if humorous, but with the situation of Nebraska’s fragile mental state, it’s actually a pretty scary and jarring scene.
Dianne Wiest’s inclusion in the cast is wonderful as Dr. Aaron, who is trying to piece back together Nebraska’s mental state after he journeyed to Mexico to forget his trouble past and find release and happiness in baseball. In fact, all three main actors here, Albert Brooks, Brendan Fraser and Wiest, deliver very good performances. Each gives their character the right amount of personality. Brooks is clearly only concerned about his own success, and not the success or mental health of Nebraska, and meanwhile Fraser plays Nebraska with the right about of levity and gravitas to depict a troubled man who finds escape in the game he excels at. It’s a shame then that the finished product feels cheap and superficial, as though the extremely unrealistic premise and dramatic payoff is in some way earned by the end. It’s not.
It is a tough act to balance, between the fantastical idea of a once in a lifetime prospect and the feats and antics he accomplishes on and off the field with the rather serious and fragile mental problems he is also facing. I would say Fear Strikes Out takes these issues a little more seriously, whereas The Scout seems reserved with using it for humor mostly and inserting them at the end as a dramatic climax. The fact that so little is known about Nebraska and where his angst comes from is a great plot device to build suspense, but by the end it feels like a MacGuffin, where the true heart of the movie disappoints as well. I give Ritchie, who directed the marvelous The Bad News Bears as well, credit for creating entertaining and intriguing moments throughout, but narratively the script fails him. It’s really less a baseball movie and more a comedy/psychological thriller, which makes for a strange combination no matter the backdrop.