Screenplay : Kevin Falls and John Gatins (story by Kevin Falls)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Freddie Prinze Jr. (Ryan Dunne), Jessica Biel (Tenley Parrish), Matthew Lillard (Billy "Bru" Brubaker), Fred Ward (Sean Dunne), Jason Gedrick (Mike Dunne), Gabriel Mann (Auggie), Bruce Davison (Rand Parrish), Brian Dennehy (Coach John Schiffner)
Summer Catch is an amiable, if unoriginal and prefabricated, sports drama about a self-destructive young pitcher trying to make up for past mistakes and find his way into the big league.
The story takes place over one summer during the elite, century-old Cape Code Baseball League, which is populated with hotshot players just out of college who are hoping that the myriad of professional scouts attending the game will offer them a contract to play in the big leagues. Freddie Prinze Jr. stars as Ryan Dunne, a home-grown pitching hero who has nearly destroyed any chance of going pro by being thrown off his college team for fighting. Now facing a future of cutting lawns and landscaping with his widowed father (Fred Ward), whom he considers a failure, the summer league represents Ryan's last opportunity to make something of himself.
But, to keep the movie interesting, screenwriters Kevin Falls and John Gatins put enough obstacles and conflicts in Ryan's way to frustrate even the heartiest of souls. First, Ryan is faced with animosity at home, as he feels that his father and older brother, Mike (Jason Gedrick), who works as a bartender, want to see him fail because they never made anything of their lives. Second, there is plenty of ill will between Ryan and the A's other pitcher, a bleach-blond pretty boy with tattoos and a wicked fastball (Corey Pearson) who has already been offered a $2-million contract to play with the Dodgers, but is holding out for another $500,000. Then, there are Ryan's conflicted feelings about being the "hometown boy," caught between his new teammates and his old friends (who are needlessly portrayed as bumbling airheads except for when one of them has to make a big speech that sums up the movie's theme about the nature of success). One of Ryan's new friends on the team is Billy "Bru" Brubaker (Matthew Lillard), a fast-talking catcher with a hitting problem whose purpose in the movie is to offer rowdy comic relief.
Of course, what would a movie starring Freddie Prinze Jr. be without a romantic angle? Romance proves to be the movie's biggest conflict of all, as Ryan falls for Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel), who comes from one of the many idle-rich families that spend their summers in Chatham. Tenley's father, Rand Parrish (Bruce Davison), doesn't look kindly on his daughter dating the guy who mows his lawn, especially when said lawn boy is telling her to follow her dreams by becoming an architect, rather than take the job he has set up for her in San Francisco. The movie milks protracted class conflict for all it's worth, playing up Ryan's blue-collar genuineness and demonizing Rand's white-collar heartless snobbery. Davison does all he can as the cruel father, but doesn't have much to work with, as the role he's been given is so melodramatically transparent in its aristocratic evil that it's hard believe in some of his more heavy-handed tactics.
Summer Catch tries hard, but it's not a particularly good movie. It is too cookie-cutter in its plot, and its attempt to use overdetermined Freudian dramatics to explain Ryan's emotional problems (dead mother, failed father, etc.) are stretched paper thin from the beginning and dragged out even further in a series of explanatory dramatic speeches. Prinze Jr. is obviously trying to expand his range by playing a rebellious character, but he's not well-suited to this type of role. Especially in the moments when he is supposed to be an "angry young man," the movie veers dangerously toward unintentional comedy. He does generate some heat with Jessica Biel (TV's 7th Heaven), and the movie plays with their relationship a bit by making her the one who is constantly pursuing him, rather than the other way around.
Yet, when it comes to really pushing the envelop, Summer Catch falls short in every department, relying on tried-and-true plot devices to ensure that everything turns out just right in the end, from winning the girl, to winning the big game, to getting the big paycheck. It's telling that it is never made clear which of these victories is most important.
Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick