Picks and Pans Review: The Natural
As a simplistic fairy tale, this baseball film has a couple of wonderful moments. In one, Robert Redford, a young bumpkin pitcher on his way to a major league tryout, runs into a sneering Ruthian big-league slugger, Joe Don Baker, at a country fair and strikes him out. The other is the movie's climactic scene, where Redford is at the plate with the season on the line, blood seeping through his shirt, his magic bat broken and the forces of corruption, who have bet against his team already, gloating over their apparent victory. Who could avoid rooting for Redford in that situation? Those involving moments are, however, separated by long stretches of listless, murky, rarely entertaining exposition. As whimsy, the film is rarely funny. As drama, it is amok with clichés. And as a baseball movie, it is full of gaffes: A pitcher winds up when he should be stretching; a ballpark that is supposed to be Wrigley Field in Chicago is nowhere near a major league stadium (the action sequences were all shot in Buffalo); most of the players are inept (two ex-pros, Joe Charboneau and Sibby Sisti, have tiny roles). Redford himself is convincing enough, and the cast includes Robert Duvall, Glenn (The Big Chill) Close, Kim (Never Say Never) Basinger, Wilford (The Hotel New Hampshire) Brimley and Richard (The Grey Fox) Farnsworth. But putting those actors in a clumsy film such as this is like putting Mike Schmidt, Eddie Murray and Robin Yount on a semipro team in Punxatawney, Pa. Cinematographer Caleb (The Right Stuff) Deschanel engages in the cinematic equivalent of overmanaging too. Every other scene, for instance, seems to be in silhouette or just plain in the dark. The film, based on Bernard Malamud's 1952 novel, is also enigmatic. Redford is shot early in the film by a mysterious woman, Barbara Hershey. Then he reappears 16 years later as a middle-aged rookie, with no explanation of where he's been. Lightning flashes every once in a while, suggesting divine intervention—not by the commissioner of baseball either. And Close seems to have a mystical, otherworldly demeanor, as if she came straight off the Garp set. Overall, while it would ordinarily take 10 Tab Hunters to get one Robert Redford in a trade, this movie makes you long for the fantasy and fun of Damn Yankees. The scouting report on The Natural has to read: lots of tools but no heart. (PG)
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