TALENT FOR THE GAME is a pleasant but empty vessel, not in the same league as recent high-scorers BULL DURHAM and FIELD OF DREAMS. The plot moves forward with the unadorned quality of a fable, but there's no moral at the end to put the whole thing in perspective.
Virgil Sweet (Edward James Olmos) lives for baseball. An ex-player sidelined by an injury, Sweet serves as a talent scout for the California Angels, combing the farms and small towns of America for a "phenom"--that player who "rises out of the perfect earth"--who will also get the Angels out of a
slump. When callow young advertising whiz Gil Lawrence (Terry Kinney) buys the team, however, Sweet's job is threatened. Lawrence plans to subscribe to computerized talent-listing services, and unless Sweet can prove his usefulness, he'll be laid off. Providentially, Sweet's car breaks down near
tiny Gennesee, Idaho, where the talent scout witnesses Sammy Bodeen (Jeffery Corbett), a preacher's kid, pitch a flawless no-hitter at the neighborhood sandlot. Sweet brings his discovery back to L.A. to demonstrate for the new owner. After a poor start and a requisite pep talk from Sweet, Bodeen
successfully pitches out the team's power hitters, impressing even the cold-blooded Lawrence. Too much so, in fact: the ad man launches a media blitz, plastering Bodeen's face on billboards and magazine covers. At a gaudy press conference Lawrence proclaims the Idaho youth to be a phenom of such a
high order that he will start pitching in the Angel's very next game that week--no orientation or warm-up seasons in the farm leagues. Sweet, now promoted to assistant manager, is horrified. He knows the kid's not ready for the pressure, and both their futures could be destroyed by Lawrence's
publicity stunt. Sure enough, the game begins with a nervous Bodeen losing one hit after another to the opposing team. The fans roar with anger. The sportswriters sharpen their poisonous pens. Lawrence orders stadium security to eject Sweet. And then ...
To say that TALENT FOR THE GAME ends happily is an understatement, as Bodeen throws his way into baseball history on the strength of some instantly forgettable words of inspiration from Sweet. Fairy-tale finales tend to be the rule rather than the exception in mainstream movies, more so than ever
in sports flicks. In fact, it's hard to believe now that in the original ROCKY the hero lost.
One is conscious of the irony in Sweet's recruitment of Bodeen; as much as Sweet believes the boy's born for baseball, he's got his own interests in mind, delivering a phenom to keep his job. He's as guilty of exploiting Bodeen as Lawrence is. The final shot of Sweet happily on the road again may
indicate that he's quit the business--or that he's recruiting again; it isn't made clear. More time is devoted to an ill-advised coda in which the triumphant Bodeen demands a multi-million-dollar salary and outrageous perks from a shaken Gil Lawrence. Although meant as comeuppance for the villain,
one shudders to watch an endorsement of the swollen wages and egos of star athletes.
James Edward Olmos has had a long working relationship with director Robert Young, dating back to ALAMBRISTA!, and while he's very good at suggesting a complex man with a long history behind him, to the viewer Virgil Sweet remains an engaging stranger. There are vaporous clues that his
career-ending injury is mostly psychological, which would make Sweet's statements on self-confidence somewhat hollow. The character reveals nothing about himself, and when longtime girlfriend Bobbie Henderson (Lorraine Bracco) berates him for wallowing in self-pity, one really has no idea what
she's talking about. Corbett resists the temptation to make Bodeen an Ozark-Ike-style bumpkin, but there's little else memorable about him. Kinney, a much-praised stage actor, gets a standard hissable yuppie role. Baseball devotees may look for a real-life parallel to the arrogant Gil Lawrence,
but not with the California Angels, please--they've long been owned by cowboy-movie good-guy Gene Autry.
During the six years the script for TALENT FOR THE GAME rattled around Hollywood, it reportedly underwent three major overhauls and numerous minor rewrites, as diverse hands tried to get it just right. Yet when the finished film previewed in some 60 theaters in April of 1991, test-market
audiences reacted negatively. Paramount cancelled a wider release, and the $13.7 million production was banished to the minors--home video--late in the year. Film marketers may well argue for years to come over why such a calculated crowd-pleaser struck out with moviegoers. (Profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1991
- Rating: PG
- Review: TALENT FOR THE GAME is a pleasant but empty vessel, not in the same league as recent high-scorers BULL DURHAM and FIELD OF DREAMS. The plot moves forward with the unadorned quality of a fable, but there's no moral at the end to put the whole thing in persp… (more)