Smelling, like a Rose

ESPN's `Hustle' is a grim picture of Pete

September 25, 2004|By Ed Sherman | Ed Sherman,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ESPN definitely isn't taking the warm, inspirational approach with its scripted dramas.

A Season on the Brink depicted Bob Knight as an out-of-control tyrant. The Junction Boys portrayed Paul "Bear" Bryant as a win-at-all-costs fanatic who in the end realizes he went too far.

Its original series Playmakers had so many unsavory characters and story lines that the NFL asked ESPN not to renew it for a second year.

ESPN obviously drifts to the dark side of sports. So it should come as no surprise that ESPN's effort about Pete Rose doesn't dwell much on his exploits as the hits king. The movie Hustle delves into Rose's gambling problem, which led to his banishment from baseball.

After watching this movie, which debuts tonight at 9, viewers will come away thinking the only Hall of Fame Rose belongs in is the one for dirtballs. Let's just say this isn't a flattering portrait ... not that it would be possible to do anything else on Rose.

The film picks up Rose in 1986, a year after he broke Ty Cobb's career hits record. Played by Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down), Rose is depicted as a person addicted to "action."

Naturally, Sizemore-as-Rose puts it in baseball terms.

"It's like, can you stretch a stand-up double into a triple?" he asks. "Can you beat the odds?"

Rose couldn't beat the odds. He was a terrible bettor. As his losses mount, he eventually turns to the one sport he knows best: baseball.

It all unravels from there, as the film shows Rose betting on baseball games from his manager's office in Riverfront Stadium. Eventually, John Dowd, the investigator for Major League Baseball, gets the goods on him.

The movie, directed by Peter Bogdanovich, depicts Rose as a relentless user of people. He is enabled by low-lifes who thrill in being around his celebrity.

Sizemore, mimicking Rose's goofy haircut, does a nice job of capturing Rose's cockiness and lack of morality. His Rose exudes a self-loving charm that allows him to lure people into his web. Sizemore makes Rose watchable, if not likable.

The movie, though, does have some flaws. Dash Mihok plays Paul Janszen, the man who placed Rose's baseball bets, as if he were John Boy Walton. For much of the film, Janszen comes off as completely star-struck, incapable of believing Rose could do him or anyone else wrong. Let's not forget that Janszen also was dealing steroids during that period, so maybe the innocent act was a bit much.

The movie also could have focused more on Dowd's investigation and the anguish Commissioner Bart Giamatti felt at banning one of baseball's most popular players. The conclusion comes too quickly.

The film isn't as good as The Junction Boys, ESPN's best thus far, but is compelling in its own way. It gives fans a chance to look inside one of the game's darkest periods.

That's why ESPN should keep these movies coming. Sports offers plenty of stories that should be told. ESPN has the resources to tell them.

Hustle

When: Tonight at 9

Where: ESPN

In brief: Pete Rose, warts and ... well, more warts.

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