In this engagingly loopy wish-fulfilment, a youngster obtains a crack pitching arm after a freak accident. Aimed squarely at little leaguers and their doting parents, ROOKIE OF THE YEAR is a modest fantasy that makes its comic fable appealing despite sporadic slapstick missteps.
Weaned on fabricated tales about his late minor league-playing papa, the titular pipsqueak, Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas), grows up dreaming of playing baseball despite his physical shortcomings. Although close to his mother Mary (Amy Morton), Henry does not warm to her latest beau,
Jack Bradfield (Bruce Altman).
Broken when he slips on a baseball, Henry's fractured arm miraculously heals into a million-dollar pitching weapon. The youngster is scooped up by Larry Fisher (Dan Hedaya), manager of the struggling Chicago Cubs, and it seems that pint-sized Henry may be the godsend for which team owner Bob
Carson (Eddie Bracken) has been praying. Despite the rawness of his talent, Henry revives everyone's team spirit and reignites the enthusiasm of the fans. While Jack Bradfield pulls strings behind the scenes to line his own pockets, Mary starts to fall for veteran player Chuck Steadman (Gary
Busey), whose injuries are curtailing a once sterling career. While Henry bonds with father figure Steadman after some initial antagonism, his friends resent Henry's star status after he arrives late to help them work on an old boat. As the Cubs head for the National Championships, Bradfield
agrees to hand over Henry's contract to the Yankees for $25 million.
Contemplating the idea of retiring, both Henry and Steadman perform badly, but then redeem themselves at Division finals. When a second accident destroys Henry's miracle arm, he uses his innate skill and ability to psych out the rival team, leading his beloved Cubs to victory. By fadeout, Henry
is welcomed back by his pals, and Mary boots out Bradfield in favor of Steadman, who will have a new career as little league coach for his stepson.
For the converted, a film like ROOKIE OF THE YEAR is impervious to criticism; its bases are already loaded with audience goodwill. Heartwarming in an obvious manner, the film rises above its gimmicky concept with humor and high spirits. ROOKIE will be less entrancing for those who find the
national pastime boring, though lead actor Nicholas has ample energy to keep the storyline bouncing along. As Henry's tomboyish, unconventional mom, Amy Morton is a delight. Even perpetual wild man Gary Busey scores here with a nicely modulated, subdued turn as a fallen sports legend; his cogent
acting is a real asset in preventing this film's flights of fancy from becoming overbearing.
First-time director Daniel Stern (best known as an actor in DINER and CITY SLICKERS) tries for a whimsical atmosphere, but his is not a subtle hand; two of the film's weakest points are the raggedly directed slapstick sequences and Stern's own comic turn as a pitching coach. These quibbles
aside, ROOKIE OF THE YEAR has spunk and heart. Even the domestic scenes pack a punch, especially Mary's revelation to her son about his father's true irresponsible nature. Perfect lightweight escapism for sports fans young and old, ROOKIE is tolerably entertaining even for those with minimal
interest in baseball.
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG
- Review: In this engagingly loopy wish-fulfilment, a youngster obtains a crack pitching arm after a freak accident. Aimed squarely at little leaguers and their doting parents, ROOKIE OF THE YEAR is a modest fantasy that makes its comic fable appealing despite spora… (more)