The first rule of any baseball movie is that the guys cast to star in it have to look like they can play. And in Home Run, Scott Elrod has the build, the swagger and the sweet swing of a big-leaguer. That makes him and this thin tale of 12-step redemption credible and watchable, if nothing else.
Elrod, a character actor who played a hunk hired to perform the fake film script in Argo, here is a big-league slugger with alcohol problems and daddy issues.
The booze we can see in his everyday routine -- dumping out the soft drink, filling the cup with vodka. And the daddy problems we're shown in a prologue, when a young Cory Brand had to "be a man" and take fastballs from his drunken, abusive father.
It all blows up that day Cory's drunkenly called out after hitting what he thought was an inside-the-park home run. The tirade he tosses injures a batboy -- his own nephew, it turns out -- and earns him an eight-week suspension.
That forces his agent (Vivica A. Fox, terrific) to get creative. She packs him off to his hometown. But another screw-up -- a DUI -- adds to the mess.
Now, he's got to go to 12-step "Celebrate Recovery" meetings. And he has to coach his brother's Little League team.
There's a disapproving sister-in-law (Nicole Leigh), a few star-struck Little League parents, and a fellow coach (Dorian Brown) who happens to have been Cory's high-school sweetheart.
And she has a son (Charles Henry Wyson) in need of a father figure.
Home Run is an utterly conventional faith-based film built around Cory's coming to grips with his demons, making amends for his wrongs and finding religion. The cast does what it can to enliven that, but the 12-step meetings are too familiar to play as fresh and the film's leaden pace only makes us wonder how long it will be before we hear The Serenity Prayer.
(You know it, I know it, and if you've ever seen a movie about recovery, you can recite it from memory. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change," etc.)
The trouble with that over-familiarity is it robs Cory's journey of any emotional punch. The script lacks on-the-field drama as well, with Cory having few real nuggets of wisdom to teach the kids about America's Pastime.
But the scenes between Elrod and Fox crackle, and the movie never goes far wrong so long as Cory's going wrong -- on and off the field. It's too bad the muted Home Run didn't take its own advice about being daring and inventive:
"Nothing great happens when you hold back."
-- McClatchy-Tribune News Service