Picks and Pans Review: Rookie of the Year

updated 07/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Thomas Ian Nicholas, Daniel Stern, Gary Busey

Stern—best known as Joe Pesci's partner-in-crime in both Home Alone films—makes his movie-directing debut with this family-oriented baseball fantasy about a 12-year-old who becomes a star pitcher for the Chicago Cubs. What's most impressive about Rookie—and it's not altogether surprising, considering the low-key, off-kilter pleasures of Stern's performances since 1979's Breaking Away—is its unforced humor. And its modesty. Rookie is pretty much a Little League kind of affair—a few diverting innings and call it a day.

Nicholas, a clumsy kid who's crazy about baseball, slips and breaks his right arm. Once it has healed, its tendons are freakishly tight, creating a pitching machine that hurls the ball at a Nolan Ryan-esque 100 m.p.h. One of the film's nice touches is the mechanical creak that Nicholas's arm makes whenever he winds up to throw. There's also a beautiful shot of Nicholas and his friends playing in Wrigley Field at sunset.

Actually, Stern's only miscalculation is Nicholas, 13, an appealing enough actor but a bit slicker than a nonathletic suburban kid ought to be. When he starts nabbing commercial endorsements, you feel he might as well sign for an infomercial. A harsh fact, but true: Until Macaulay Culkin starts shaving, the average child actor's lot will be an unenviable one.

The rest of the cast—including Busey as a nearly-over-the-hill pitcher, and Stern as a pitching coach who once was beaned too hard by a ball—is fine. An unbilled John Candy is the team's radio announcer. Maybe he should have played the kid. (PG)

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