"Pastime" is "Bull Durham" on phenobarb -- a baseball movie that's every bit as slow as the game itself. But this is a film that also offers some of the national pastime's pleasures: It is sometimes subtle, sometimes lyrical and sometimes beautifully played. There just isn't enough to add up to a wholly successful movie.
Opening today at the Charles, "Pastime" was intended for commercial summer release, but never made it. Set in the middle 1950s, it tells the story of Roy Dean Bream (William Russ), an over-the-hill, minor league pitcher with a so-so past and absolutely no future. Roy Dean is a sweet and gentle soul, old even beyond his years. He's the sort of guy who opens an automobile door for a lady and sings out, "fingers and toes," before closing it.
You could say he's a loser -- and you'd probably be right. In his one appearance in "the bigs" -- this film's term for what "Bull Durham" called "the show" -- he tried to send a fast ball past Stan Musial on a 3-2 count and Musial sent him back to the minors with a grand-slam homerun. Half of Roy Dean's teammates in the minors look at him with contempt; the other half pity him. All fear that he is what they will become.
Into this situation comes Tyrone (Glenn Plummer), a shy and sweet 17-year-old pitcher who is resented by the other players not only because he is black but because he is talented. Roy Dean takes the kid under his wing, even teaching him his one real pitch -- the "Bream dream," a curve ball that explodes high and inside to the batter.
What makes the movie work is a screenplay by David Eyre (he earned previous credits for "Cattle Annie and Little Britches" and the underrated "Wolfen") with characters subtle enough and language believable enough for the good cast to make vivid.
Unfortunately, there are also enough holes and contradictions in the movie to interrupt the elegiac flow necessary to a baseball story.
Why, for example, if the "Bream dream" is such a wonderful pitch was its inventor's sojourn in "the bigs" scarcely long enough, as he puts it, to have "a cup of coffee"?
Finally, there is Robin Armstrong's direction, which -- while sure and knowing about baseball -- is strictly bush-league when it comes to narrative pace. Still, if one loves baseball -- a sport that demands one accept less than perfection -- there is something to like about "Pastime."
Starring William Russ, Glenn Plummer and Dierdre O'Connell.
Directed by Robin Armstrong.
Released by Miramax.