Film review: Mr. Baseball

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 1992 12:00 a.m. MDT

Tom Selleck is perfect as "Mr. Baseball," an "Ugly American" in Japan (he's traded, believe it or not, to a Japanese team by the New York Yankees).

Of course, he's not happy when the trade decision is announced, especially since it seems to be based on his unsavory lifestyle more than his ballplaying ability. (He's been arrested for drunken driving, and his carousing doesn't go with the image advertisers want projected in TV commercials.)

Selleck is, of course, bigger in stature than the Japanese people who surround him, making for many obvious sight gags. He's also rude and obnoxious to everyone he encounters. To make matters worse, he's in a hitting slump, and the team manager (Ken Takakura, one of Japan's biggest stars, whose American films include "The Yakuza" and "Black Rain") — not to mention the team's owners — aren't happy about it.

Selleck does manage to hit it off with a young woman (Aya Takanashi) he meets at the ballpark, and eventually they get romantic, though it's an unlikely romance at best.

In the end, Selleck must humble himself and accept "Karate Kid"-style training from the manager in order to become a better ballplayer. Ultimately, he becomes the home run king — and gets an offer to return to the states. Will he accept it? Or will he stay in Japan and become a nicer human being?

If you don't know the answer to that one, you don't see enough movies.

Selleck is obviously having the time of his life in this role, which seems tailor-made for him (though softening the character's nasty edge wouldn't have hurt). And the supporting cast is quite good. (Including Dennis Haysbert as a fellow American ballplayer and Toshi Shioya as Selleck's interpreter.)

But the script, credited to five writers, is strictly by-the-numbers fish-out-of-water stuff, plotted simplistically and loaded with cheap jokes based on stereotypes. Director Fred Schepisi ("Roxanne," "A Cry in the Dark," "The Russia House") doesn't seem to have a sense for the comedy here, though he does stage the ball games pretty well.

"Mr. Baseball" is rated PG-13 for considerable nudity and profanity (including some vulgar phrases), some violence and implied sex.