Thursday, September 15, 2016
You’d see Lee pitching a big game totally zonked out of his mind, the manager’s attempts to keep him in line, bizarre antics, great sequences at Fenway Park and other venues. Yeah, baby. I’m there!
But that’s not what this movie was.
I suppose I should say SPOILER ALERT here although most baseball fans already know the story and a quick peek at Wikipedia will fill in the rest.
Eventually the Montreal Expos got tired of his bullshit, released him, and no other major league team would pick him up. He was already 35 (which meant one year away from 50) and not worth the trouble.
And THAT was the movie. He’s released and for the rest of the film just tries to reconcile with that.
So if you want to make a 90 minute movie that feels like three hours, follow the following steps:
STRETCH OUT A PAPER-THIN STORY – For 90 minutes we see Lee applying for major league positions, getting rejected for major league positions, and finally he decides he’s okay with that. Period. That’s ten minutes in a good movie; an hour and a half in this one.
HAVE ZERO SUSPENSE – We know the story. And worse, it’s not a very exciting story. It’s a guy floundering. And then he stops. WOW! This is especially egregious when the part they left out (his big league career) was the good stuff. It's like doing a James Bond movie after he saves the world and he's in bed recovering from the flu for 90 minutes.
DO NOTHING INSPIRING – No big comeback, no returning from the depths of despair to the top of the mountain. No taking a different direction and finding success elsewhere. No making a difference in anyone’s lives other than a bunch of rag-tag guys on a beer league team. No out-smarting anyone. The big movie moment here is that he decides not to coach a minor league team in Tucson. Destined to be a classic.
REPEAT SCENES AT LEAST SEVEN TIMES – He thinks he’ll get another big league job. He gets rejected. He drinks and gets high. This sequence repeats over and over and over and over again.
HAVE A LINEAR STORY – Don’t do anything inventive in the storytelling. Just chronicle the turn of events. This is what happened in May. Then this is what happened in June. Then July, August, September, zzzzzzzzzzz.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE NO SURPRISES – Do nothing unexpected. Just let the audience watch things they already know play out.
USE TIRED MOVIE TROPES – He falls in with a bad crowd and ends up hosting drug and beer parties at his house. He wakes up and his place is a mess with all these stoners passed out. How many times have we seen that? Hasn’t Seth Rogen made that movie seven times?
Lee winds up playing for a “Bad News Bears” team of middle-aged lovable misfits. Didn’t Walter Matthau make that film six times?
PLAY YOUR LEAD CHARACTER AT ONE NOTE – Josh Duhamel is charming and boyish as Bill Lee and stays that way in every single scene. Part of the problem in this case is I believe the real Bill Lee was involved creatively. So the Bill Lee we saw on the screen was I’m sure an air brushed version of the real dude.
GIVE YOUR LEAD CHARACTER ONLY ONE ATTITUDE – and let him play it for the entire movie.
MAKE SURE YOUR MOVIE IS NEVER VISUALLY INTERESTING – Scenes in bars, scenes in the house, scenes in offices, driving through boring deserts, sandlot ballgames, spring training batting practice, and when you finally see a major league stadium all you're shown is nothing but loading docks, empty seats, service corridors, cramped locker rooms, and offices. Yes, it was a low budget movie, but there are plenty of films on shoestring budgets that manage to turn out eye-popping images.
In fairness, SPACEMAN did try to cover some backstory with animation, but it came out of nowhere, was stylistically jarring, and looked like it was made by a high school student on his father’s old Dell computer.
A 90-minute movie should fly. Especially when most movies, even trifle comedies, are well over two hours. If it doesn’t, my guess is the filmmaker fell into one of these ten traps. In the case of SPACEMAN, he fell into all ten.
If this movie is playing in your area, save your money and go watch a Little League game. At least you’re outdoors for 90 minutes.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM