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"SUMMER CATCH"
(2001) (Freddie Prinze, Jr., Jessica Biel) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Despite facing long odds on both counts, a middle class young man romances a rich young woman while making one last effort at making a name for himself in the game of baseball.
PLOT:
Ryan Dunne (FREDDIE PRINZE, JR.) has lived in Cape Cod all of his life, where he's watched various young men play in the summer baseball league, hoping to impress professional major league scouts. Now, along with catcher Billy Brubaker (MATTHEW LILLARD), hotshot competing pitcher Eric Van Leemer (COREY PEARSON), and fellow players Miles Dalrymple (MARC BLUCAS) and Mickey "Domo" Dominguez (WILMER VALDERRAMA), Ryan is taking his one last shot at playing professional ball.

Accordingly, and when not fooling around with the promiscuous Dede Mulligan (BRITTANY MURPHY), mowing lawns for his father, Sean (FRED WARD) and his lawn service, or hanging out with his friends Auggie (GABRIEL MANN) and Pete (JED ROBERT RHEIN) at the local bar where his brother, Mike (JASON GEDRICK) works serving drinks, Ryan tries to impress the Chatham A's coach, John Schiffner (BRIAN DENNEHY).

Known equally for his skill as well as his inconsistent nature coupled with a reputation for being hotheaded on the mound, Ryan has his work cut out for him. The same holds true when he finds himself attracted to Tenley Parrish (JESSICA BIEL), the pretty daughter of Rand Parrish (BRUCE DAVISON), a wealthy lawn client who doesn't approve of their romance due to their class differences.

As the season begins and a professional scout (JOHN C. McGINLEY) observes his game, Ryan tries to prove his worth both on and off the diamond, all while dealing with both internal and external obstacles that might derail both his personal and professional aspirations.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
As a kid, I hated the end of summer for a number of reasons. For starters, it meant that summer vacation was over and school was about to begin. It also meant that the days were getting shorter and soon would become cooler, thus necessitating the closure of swimming pools and amusement parks and bringing about the need for wearing long pants.

Now, as an adult, some of that still holds true, although school has been replaced by increased traffic thanks to it and the return of everyone from vacation. As a movie reviewer, however, the end of the summer means something far worse than all of that. Like the mosquitoes that thrive during the season and intend to bleed you dry before their summer is up, the movie studios traditionally unleash some of their worst product on the masses during this time, obviously hoping to suck a few last box office dollars out of unsuspecting viewers via their pesky films.

"Summer Catch" is one of those pictures. A baseball-based underdog film designed to elicit the interest of teen moviegoers, this is a typical late summer film that starts off as just mediocre and then steadily declines to embarrassingly bad during its less than two hour runtime.

Filled with about every contrivance and cliché from both the baseball and young lover genres (including both early voice over narration and then sports announcer commentary to lay out necessary exposition and other important facts), the film sports an attractive cast - namely in the form of headliners Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Jessica Biel - but not much else that would remotely make it worthwhile for most viewers.

Baseball fans aren't likely to get too excited about this pre-minor league tale of a young and talented, but headstrong and inconsistent pitcher who's getting his last chance at making it in the game. Recycling story elements from many other baseball flicks, director Mike Tollin (making his feature film debut after helming the documentary "Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream") and screenwriters Kevin Falls ("The Temp") and John Gatins (an actor turned first-time screenwriter) offer nothing new to the mix and neither the practices nor games they've concocted are particularly interesting or engaging.

Or course, that seems like award winning material when compared with the off field antics. Like most every other sports-related film that needs its share of non-sports related moments, this one contains such material. It's just too bad that it doesn't do much to complement the baseball story, let alone stand on its own that well.

Beyond "subplots" featuring one player and his obsession with large girls and another's attempts to avoid a female character that comes from the same line of middle-aged seductresses such as Mrs. Robinson ("The Graduate") and Annie Savoy ("Bull Durham"), there's the personal life of the troubled protagonist and his relationships with various others in his circle.

Ryan Dunne doesn't particularly get along that well with either his bartender sibling - played in stereotypical irritated but wise fashion by Jason Gedrick ("Backdraft," "Iron Eagle") - or father -- Fred Ward ("Road Trip," "Tremors") doing the same bit - who's seen his boy fail and believes it best for him to keep mowing the lawns of the rich and snooty. He does get along better with his local friends - including Gabriel Mann ("Josie and the Pussycats," "Outside Providence") - as well as his wacky teammate - played with slightly crazy man-like zest by Matthew Lillard ("Love's Labour's Lost," "Scream").

The focus of his attention, however, is on the beautiful rich girl, and who could blame him after setting sights on Jessica Biel ("I'll Be Home For Christmas," TV's "7th Heaven"). Unfortunately, her performance works better in terms of looks than dramatics as various sights of her - some of them in soft core slow motion -such as that of her in an itsy-bitsy swimsuit or other revealing clothing clearly override her acting efforts.

The two young lovers fall into the Romeo and Juliet category with their unlikely romance generating the usual parental conflict and emotional standoffs and/or fireworks. Alas, that's where the picture turns into a soap opera with all of the requisite melodrama, maudlin emotions, clichéd and hackneyed dialogue and bad acting.

The film's target audience of young teen girls may eat up what's served to them if they're blinded by the sappy romance and worry that the two won't end up together. As if! Everyone else, however, will see through this mess that they've witnessed countless times before and won't likely be moved by what transpires.

Beyond the aforementioned performances, the film rests on the central one by Freddie Prinze, Jr. ("She's All That," "Down to You") and he unfortunately doesn't have the acting physique to shoulder the minimal dramatics the role requires. Doing his normal, cute guy with the winning/charming smile routine that he's honed in previous films, Prinze strikes out here when swinging for the big league thespian fences.

The rest of the performers playing ballplayers are pretty much run of the mill and don't make much of a lasting impression. Brian Dennehy's ("Presumed Innocent," "Cocoon") presence brings a little adult class to the proceedings, but he can't rise above the standard and rather blasé coaching part, which also holds true for Bruce Davison ("crazy/beautiful," "X-Men") as an elitist father figure.

While Prinze and Biel make a cute couple and the chemistry between them is mildly fun to watch as it develops and then builds, that alone can't make this film a hit, let along a grand slam. Unlikely to be caught by many viewers, the film is marginally okay for a while but then turns progressively worse as it unfolds. "Summer Catch" rates as just a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed August 21, 2001 / Posted August 24, 2001


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