Keanu’s Baseball Movie

Hardball is principally a sports movie about an unrepentant Irish gambler out of his element, forced to manage a Little League team in the projects. Diane Lane shares the marquee with Keanu Reeves but her participation is fairly minimal. Her character is primarily there to provide a little romance and splash a female star on the poster. The 2001 film features one of Michael B. Jordan’s earliest screen roles. Marrying the sports drama formula with a little Hip-Hop flavor, shades of Dangerous Minds and The Bad News Bears loom over Hardball.

Conor O’Neill (Reeves) is a desperate gambler whose bad debts are called in by the dangerous loan sharks he owes. The hustler ends up managing a Little League team for a little quick cash, having burned bridges with most of his friends. He’s at the end of his rope and this is his only option.

Hardball clearly goes after the urban youth market with its Rap-driven soundtrack

The Kekambas are a rag-tag team from the rough Cabrini Green projects, barely able to afford proper uniforms and equipment. Most come from struggling households with little adult supervision. What they lack in skill they make up for in enthusiasm. Diane Lane is Elizabeth Wilkes, a no-nonsense teacher for the 5th graders playing on the team. Pretending to be a Wall Street broker, Conor is initially more interested in dating her than helping kids out.

Generally a feel-good story about poor black kids overcoming their difficult living situations, Keanu is fairly forgettable here as lead star. His Conor is a likable enough character but the hokey premise of how a reckless gambler like him becomes a Little League manager requires an immense suspension of disbelief. The best parts of Hardball are almost entirely thanks to the young boys on the baseball team, a motley assortment of goodhearted kids. They may have an attitude but you can’t help but enjoy their antics around the diamond.

There’s a surprisingly rough edge to the dialogue for the combo sports and romance flick. Hardball clearly goes after the urban youth market with its Rap-driven soundtrack. The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” plays a recurring part in the action, as the team’s best pitcher needs the song playing on a loop when pitching.

Hardball has a few flaws but provides raw laughs and well-intended pathos when it most counts. The kids visit an MLB game and see Sammy Sosa in one of the movie’s chintzier moments. Apparently the producers couldn’t afford the expensive licensing, so Sosa appears in a generic uniform without any logo. Even more disappointingly, the scene was filmed in a minor league stadium and not Wrigley Field.

Keanu and Diane Lane don’t really spark as a couple but the plot barely relies on their connection for success. You get the feeling Lane’s character was added late in development, almost an afterthought. Director Brian Robbins’ movie is at its best when Keanu is managing the kids and learning a few things along the way.

Video

Hardball turns out fairly well on Blu-ray with a film-like transfer provided by Paramount. The elements are in excellent condition. The 1.78:1 presentation has an even contrast and crisp definition, generally exuding fine depth. The consistent 1080p video bears all the hallmarks of a newish HD transfer from the original camera negative, likely a 2K scan struck without undue processing and filtering. Colors are healthy and flesh-tones remain lively throughout the film.

The main feature runs 106 minutes on a BD-50. The AVC encoding transparently renders the natural grain structure with no ill effects. There’s no real ringing visible in the transfer. Hardball isn’t striking eye candy but holds up during darker scenes at night while boasting serious clarity in brighter exteriors on the diamond. It’s a highly serviceable effort for a 2001 studio film.

Audio

Incidental music and a few outdoor scenes provide the bulk of rear activity in this forward-driven 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix. The soundtrack, available on its own from Sony Music, offers a mix of urban and hip-hop songs. Hardball is one of the first movies I’ve ever heard to use a censored Rap song, concerning some profanity in a DMX track. The instrumental score by composer Mark Isham has nice extension and excellent range.

The tunes themselves have decent dynamics with some bass. Fidelity for the musical recordings are high with dialogue cleanly delivered, primarily from the center channel. There’s nothing particularly wrong or outstanding about the audio. It gets the job done with minimum frills.

Optional English SDH and French subtitles play in a white font. A French dub plays in 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Extras

Paramount brings over all the special features found on their original DVD release for Hardball. It’s a somewhat perfunctory commentary from the director and screenwriter, though informative about several production issues. Nothing new has been dug up for Blu-ray.

Commentary by Director Brian Robbins and Writer John Gatins

The Making of Hardball Featurette (12:25 in SD) – A standard EPK featurette from the early 2000s with cast and crew discussing Hardball.

Deleted Scenes (All in SD) – Duffy’s Tavern (03:58); The Funeral Parlor (01:27); Talking to the Kids (01:42)

Music Video (04:09 in SD) – “Hardball” by Lil’ Bow Wow, Lil’ Wayne, Lil’ Zane and Sammie is a Jermaine Dupri production from before he’d become a household name in Rap.

Hardball Theatrical Trailer (03:08 in SD)

Interstitials (All in SD) – Andre/Baseball Star; Andre/Bling, Bling; and Kofi

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Hardball
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

A mostly heartfelt sports movie starring Keanu Reeves about an unpolished Little League team from the projects coming together.

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