Here comes another baseball comedy, just in time for World Series fans who are going through withdrawal. But unfortunately, "The Scout" proves to be an unsatisfying single that should have been a home run.
The title character is Al Percolo (Albert Brooks), a longtime scout for the New York Yankees. But he's on the skids. In fact, last two prospects have fared so poorly that he has become a laughingstock.
So, early in the film, Al's boss sends him to a series of obscure Mexican villages on a "grudge trip," just to make his life miserable.
But to Al's surprise, in one of his last Mexico stops, he stumbles on an American ballplayer named Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser), who is both an incredible pitcher and hitter.
Steve also has a past, however - a past he doesn't want to discuss. Worse, he gets quite nervous in unknown situations, or if he's being asked too many questions - which makes the thought of press conferences rather worrisome.
Still, Al sees dollar signs and takes Steve under his wing. Before he can present Steve to the Yankees, however, Al is fired. No problem. He makes Steve a free agent and wins a startling starting contract, a record-setting $55 million. And, just to make things sweeter, the bid comes from the Yankees.
In New York City, Steve is out of his element, so Al takes him home, puts him up in his apartment and acts as a father-figure. And at the insistence of the Yankees, he also takes Steve to a psychiatrist (Dianne Wiest) to work out his hidden personal problems.
It's the middle of the season and Steve is happy that he doesn't have to start playing until spring. But just to add some anxiety, Al agrees to have Steve pitch the first game of the World Series, if the Yankees win the pennant. Steve becomes very anxious about the possibility, but Al assures him it's a longshot at best.
So, guess what happens?
The first third or so of "The Scout" is very funny, with Brooks' character being the focal point and his wry and world-weary reactions provoking the best laughs. But in the second half, the picture seems to want to be more about Steve, perhaps to take advantage of Fraser's growing popularity with the ever-popular youth demographic.
The problem is that his character is never developed. We never know anything about him. In fact, by the end of the picture, his past is still a mystery, save a snippet of information that comes from a perfunctory statement by the psychiatrist.
For that matter, we don't get to know Brooks' character very well, either. If he's a well-paid scout for the Yankees, why does he live in such a dumpy apartment? Does he have a life? Any friends? An ex-wife? Kids? And, more importantly, is he the slimeball the first half of the film makes him out to be - or is he the sweet, misunderstood schnook the second half makes him out to be? None of these obvious questions are even addressed.
We never get any real sense of Steve's apparent innocence, even when is supposedly a naive fish-out-of-water in New York. And though for a time the film is steered into "Prince of Tides" territory, it never pays off - and Wiest is utterly wasted. (As are a bevy of guest players, from sports stars to Tony Bennett.)
All of this could perhaps be forgiven if the audience was laughing enough. But after that amusing start, the movie runs out of steam and never recovers.
Too bad. This one had potential.
"The Scout" is rated PG-13 for profanity.
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