Film review: 'American Pastime' hits a homer

Published: Friday, April 13 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

AMERICAN PASTIME — *** — Aaron Yoo, Gary Cole, Masatoshi Nakamura; with English subtitles (Japanese dialects); rated PG (violence, profanity, racial epithets, vulgarity).

The baseball scenes may be the weakest aspect of "American Pastime." But fortunately, this locally filmed feature is as much a historical drama as a sports drama.

And the historical elements — particularly those that deal with Japanese internment camps during World War II — definitely make the movie worthwhile.

"Pastime" is loosely based on the stories of people who were interned at the Topaz Relocation Center in Abraham, Utah. This fictionalization follows members of the Nomura family, who ran a successful East Los Angeles business before the start of World War II.

Family patriarch Kaz Nomura (Masatoshi Nakamura) is determined to make the best of the trying circumstances, but his youngest son, Lyle (Aaron Yoo), is frustrated about losing his baseball scholarship and his freedom.

Those frustrations eventually spill out when Lyle and his family are confronted with racism from the surrounding community. One of the chief culprits is Billy Burrell (Gary Cole), a camp guard who also turns out to be a minor league-ball player.

As you can probably guess, it builds to a big showdown on the baseball diamond, though the game doesn't feel quite as dramatic as it probably should. But the emotional payoff to the game — which comes just a little later — is considerably better.

The most interesting character here may be Lyle's older brother Lane (Leonardo Nam), who is shown joining the U.S. Army to fight his supposed countrymen.

Nakamura is appropriately dignified as Lyle and Lane's father, while Cole's character transformation is convincing. And he takes on a more dramatic role than we've seen him in recently (at least in such films as "Talladega Nights").

The solid supporting cast also features "Napoleon Dynamite" co-star Jon Gries, television actresses Susanna Thompson and Sarah Drew, and local television personality Leroy "Big Budah" Teo.

"American Pastime" is rated PG for some war imagery and other brief violence (fisticuffs and a beating, as well as athletics-based violence), and use of strong profanity, racial epithets and some crude slang terms. Running time: 107 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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