Yes, it’s another uplifting sports movie. It’s another “based on a true story” tale of the healing power of sports and the ability of humankind to overcome adversity by running fast or throwing a ball really hard. And as cynical as I may be about this genre, I do actually like sports for the most part. It’s just that there are actual sports games on TV that I can watch for free, as opposed to spending two hours wading through a sea of clichéd schmaltz.
The Final Season is a bad movie in the sense that it is nothing more than adequate and forgettable. It’s ironic, then, that the tagline for the film is “How do you want to be remembered?” since the movie does absolutely nothing to be even slightly memorable. It acts as a love letter to baseball, Middle America and the virtues of small-town living, and is therefore completely inoffensive and, in turn, uninteresting. It’s the Beaver Cleaver of cinema.
The film attempts to document the Norway High baseball team—a small-school team that has managed to win 19 state championships—during their last season before their school is to merge with a larger school. In an attempt to ensure that the team fails (which is somehow supposed to make the merger easier), Norway’s legendary coach, the homily-spouting “We grow ball players here like corn” Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) is fired, and his inexperienced assistant, Kent Stock (Sean Astin), is hired to head up the team. From here, it’s the same old corny, overcoming-the-odds melodrama that you’d expect, complete with mushy score and all the heroic climactic bravado you would expect.
The film eschews any attempt at creating realistic characters, and instead deals in the stock types that inhabit this kind of movie: There’s the balding comic-relief news reporter (Larry Miller, For Your Consideration), the overworked dad (Tom Arnold) and his troubled, angst-ridden son (Michael Aragarano, Sky High)—who you know is troubled because he has long hair, smokes cigarettes and wears a Dead Kennedys shirt. No one’s terribly bad in the film, it’s just a case of the complete underwhelming satisfactoriness of it all that ends up sinking the enterprise.
And no one epitomizes this more than Astin (who also doubles as executive producer), who’s only ever really been appealing in the Lord of the Rings films. Unfortunately, Iowa is a long way from Middle Earth, and he shows a complete inability to carry a film. Instead, he gives what may be the year’s doughiest, least threatening performance.
The film would like to think of itself as some kind of treatise on the failings of the American educational system, which is not exactly a topic that lends itself to excitement (you may see a pattern developing here). At the same time, however, the movie puts forth the specious idea that sports are somehow more important to a school than education. But whatever The Final Season thinks it is or would like to be, it remains nothing more than simply another uplifting sports movie in a market already oversaturated with such films. Rated PG for language, thematic elements and some teen smoking.