'The Scout' report: loosely about baseball, strictly minor league

September 30, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Say it ain't so, Albert.

But Albert can't say it ain't so, because it is so, and he will weep many bitter tears.

Mighty Albert Brooks, hitting a brilliant .396 in the comedy department after such films as "Lost in America" and "Modern Romance" and a brilliant comic presence in "Broadcast News," has struck out. The engine of his big K is "The Scout," as dim and bland and ill-conceived a vehicle as one can remember. Frankly, between "The Scout" and "The Strike," I'll take the strike.

The movie is mounted on a baseball fable, delivered in its purest form at the beginning of "The Natural" and possibly having as its antecedent the discovery of Walter Johnson in some Idaho rube league.

It's the old one about the beat-up scout, his salad days over, who is wandering through jerktown backwaters on the way to extinction. Whom should he come across but the real McCoy, the Natural himself: a young baseball god, with hayseeds in his hair and a heater that leaves contrails as it screeches supersonically toward home plate.

Of course, as it re-creates this myth, "The Scout" begins with an incidental ethnic slur that's truly irritating and completely unnecessary: Brooks' Al Percola, a Yankee employee, has been exiled by the snooty GM (Lane Smith) after his last screw-up, to bush-league Mexico, where he encounters Sam Peckinpah's racist chicken-coop of a culture, complete with scabby buildings, outdoor plumbing and rapacious, greasy peasants chewing on pig's legs. His cultural superiority is vouchsafed when he comes across one Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser), a gringo who mows 'em down with such a zinger that Al immediately sees in his right arm a ticket back to the bigs.

Thus the film follows as Al sponsors the bumbling but brilliant Steve to a tryout and then to the Yankees themselves and the first game of the World Series. But wait a minute. It's the '90s. We have ESPN, we have ESPN2, we have sports talk radio, confessional memoirs, bitter public scandals and, most prominently, we have the penetration of professional sports culture by journalism in every facet. Any movie about a sport has to deal with that or it's dead on the table. "The Scout" is completely dead.

How can any movie about baseball suggest that the Yankees would offer someone a $55 million contract on the basis of a tryout that consists of exactly three pitches? How dare it offer the idea that he'd start a World Series game without even working out with the team, meeting his teammates, throwing in the minor leagues, or throw -- at the very least -- in front of the manager and the pitching coach?

As it turns out, "The Scout" is only remotely interested in baseball. Rather, it focuses on the not very intriguing psychodrama of the mysterious Steve Nebraska, as plumbed by a somewhat dotty psychiatrist (Dianne Wiest in her first bad performance), and his confusions about Al as his father figure. All of this is malarkey.

Then the movie climaxes in a baseball feat laughably impossible. It's one thing when no-hitting Gary Cooper fakes it as Lou Gehrig or when big blubbo John Goodman fakes it as Babe Ruth. But when no-arm Fraser is said to bring off something that Johnson, Cy Young and Mike Mussina couldn't even dream about, it simply becomes ludicrous.

"The Scout"

Starring Albert Brooks and Brendan Fraser

Directed by Michael Ritchie

Released by Twentieth-Century Fox

Rated PG-13

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