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Batter up — just don’t batter the kid

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DVD review: “A Mile in His Shoes.” Nasser Group North. 89 minutes. Rated PG. My grade: B.

For five years, filmmakers have been trying to copy the surprise success of Facing the Giants, a football film produced by a church in Georgia. And often with the same hook: sports.

Just in the last year we’ve seen “inspirational” films about golf ( Seven Days in Utopia ), basketball ( Breaking the Press ), mixed martial arts ( Warrior ) and yes, football ( The Fifth Quarter ). What’s missing? Right: baseball, the national pastime.

TomTheHand via Wikimedia

Touching that base is A Mile in His Shoes, based on the book The Legend of Mickey Tussler by Frank Nappi. It’s about minor-league baseball. And faith. And team spirit. And the “differently abled.” And country. Lots of country. If you don’t like tractors, country music and miles of farmland, zip past the first several minutes.

Finally we get to the River Rats in rural Ohio, a stereotyped team of losers with no way to go but up. Coach Arthur “Murph” Murphy’s manager tells him to recruit a good pitcher, or else.

In Indiana, Murph finds Mickey, a simple-minded farmboy with a golden arm: To feed his pigs, he busts up apples by throwing them into a hanging bushel basket — in the same spot every time. Murph begs Mickey’s domineering, overprotective dad to let him try out for the Rats.

The father at first says no: Mickey has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism-like condition that hampers social skills. Finally Dad relents on the urging of his wife and son.

The naïve Mickey progresses slowly, with the help of Murph and a team buddy. And once he gets on the pitcher’s mound, he starts throwing strikes with machinelike precision. The Rats climb out of the cellar toward a league championship.

So who wouldn’t like the new pitcher? The one he bumped, of course. “Lefty” first sneers and plays tricks on Mickey. Then he has his girlfriend get Mickey alone so a couple of masked thugs can beat him up. Mickey is so traumatized, he sits out a few games.

Murph lets him stay at his house for awhile, and it becomes clear why he’s taken so much to him: His own dead son was a baseball player. He even lets Mickey stay in the boy’s bedroom.

Several things happen quickly. Police sniff around Lefty as the main suspect. His girlfriend confesses guilty feelings to her pastor, who urges her to do the right thing. And Mickey decides to face his fears and return to the pitcher’s mound.

And that’s pretty much where this film peaks. From then on, you pretty much know what’ll happen. Unless you guessed it when Murph first met Mickey.

Not that A Mile in His Shoes lacks redeeming values. References to God and the Bible are slipped gently into the plot, not forcibly as in many gospel films. And the girl’s pastor is portrayed as a supportive person, rather than a hypocrite or out-of-touch clod.

Director-writer William Dear is on sure footing with a baseball film, having done 1994’s Angels in the Outfield and 2007’s The Sandlot: Heading Home.

Toronto-born Dear even manages to make us think we’re in rural America when the farm scenes were shot in rural British Columbia. Much of the cast is Canadian as well: Even the theme song came from Nova Scotia-born George Canyon, who also plays Mickey’s father.

Canadian-American actor Luke Schroder, son of veteran Rick Schroder, refreshingly portrays the shyness, literal mind and obsession with detail of Asperger’s patients, without lapsing into caricature.

The main American in this movie is Dean Cain, best as Superman in the early ’90s series Lois & Clark. Cain does a decent turn as the good-hearted coach who is trying to shield his team, and especially Mickey, from his all-business manager.

So there’s a lot of good in A Mile in His Shoes. I just wish “inspirational” filmmakers would try some other genre than sports. Imitation may be the sincerest form of television, as Fred Allen said decades ago. But it doesn’t make the most creative movies.

Oh, yeah: The film’s publicist says FTC guidelines require me to add this . . .

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

. . . which strikes me as kind of lame. Who would recommend something he didn’t think was good?

James D. Davis

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Written by Jim Davis

January 29, 2012 at 2:24 am

One Response

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