God and baseball: Thatís the American way.
And perhaps itís the Mexican way, too, if The Perfect Game is any indication. This charming family movie is all about the 1957 Little League World Series and a newcomer team of Mexican adolescents who know that in baseball, heart is a crucial part of the game.
Clifton Collins Jr. stars in The Perfect Game as Cesar, a man who goes home to his roots in Monterrey, Mexico, when his coaching dreams are dashed in America. Cesar has what it takes to be a Major League Baseball coach, but thatís never going to happen in the U.S. because heís Mexican. Monterrey is his parentsí home town, and he goes there to work in the foundry, drink too much and feel sorry for himself.
The town and its people are poor. The local kids love baseball, but they practise their ball throwing by breaking windows at abandoned buildings. The local priest (Cheech Marin) wants to give the children hope, but heís not sure how to do it. Then he gets them interested in baseball.
One of the local kids, Angel (Jake T. Austin) has more problems than most. His brother has died and his father has never recovered from that loss. He tends to take out his anger and heartbreak on Angel.
Angel finds a real baseball lying on the ground and assumes itís a sign from God. (Itís Cesarís ball from his days with the St. Louis Cardinals; as the ball says ďProperty of St. LouisĒ on it, the kids assume a saint dropped it from heaven.)
Next, Angel runs into Cesar, who throws the ball with Angel a few times and inspires him to put together a team. It would take a miracle to get this bunch of unskilled kids to the Little League, and miracles are what this movie is all about. Before you know it, theyíre off to play ball in America. And they win.
The Perfect Game follows this band of Mexican children, their coach Cesar and their priest (Cheech Marin) as they play ball across the state of Texas. Their wins put them in the news, and that introduces a subplot about a female reporter (Emilie de Raven) who is assigned to follow the team around.
The teamís winning streak is based on hard work; when the children arenít on the field, theyíre being insulted by local rednecks, prevented from using whites-only bathrooms and called wet backs by American adults. In one scene, Angel is horrified to see an African American boy eating all by himself. Angel and his teammates brave the glares of white diners to join the child at his table.
The Perfect Game is all about uplifting values, hard work and faith, but itís not nearly as revolting as that sounds. The child actors who portray the baseball team from Monterrey, Mexico, are charming and believable ó and in there among the abundant schmaltz, corn and cheese are some lovely cinematic moments.
Not a lot, but some.
The Perfect Game offers snippets of actual news footage from 1957, and some newspaper photos of the players, all quietly folded into the narrative. Itís endearing. This movie is whatís known as family entertainment, which means in this case that itís interesting and harmless. Some will be put off by the cliches and the quick conflict resolution, but you could take your baseball-loving kids to see it without a momentís hesitation.
(This film is rated PG)