Are you game?
Put on your thinking caps with me for a moment. Think of something that you’ve never wanted to do, and then you did it, and later realized that you had been correct in avoiding it all along. I can think of two things I’ve never wanted to do. The first is visit Idaho. It’s just one big place for McDonalds (a place I also avoid — I’m a Burger King man) to grow their potatoes and cows without worrying about environmentalists being on their back because they’re cutting down rainforests. A spotted owl may get in the way from time to time, but in Idaho no one will care if they become part of a mystery meat McNugget. Now that I’ve defamed both an entire state and a large multinational corporation, the other thing I’ve never wanted to do is watch a Freddie Prinze Jr. movie. Sure, I saw him in I Know What You Did Last Summer (Freudian slip: at first, I accidentally typed “Last Supper”), but I’ve avoided all his other sappy pre-teen targeted flick like Le Big Mac. So, when Warner Brothers graciously mailed me a copy of Summer Catch, I figured, “Oh, why not. I may never visit the Potato State, but maybe I can give a Freddie Prinze Jr. movie a chance.”
Oh, what a mistake I made.
Ryan Dunne (Prinze Jr.) wants to be a pro baseball player so bad he can smell it. Or perhaps that’s because he has a penchant for wearing day-old women’s underwear, a practice chronicled in the opening minutes of the film. He works with his dad (Fred Ward, Road Trip, Joe Dirt, Corky Romano) mowing the lawns at the homes of the rich snobs in the Cape Cod area where they live. Ryan is the first hometown boy to play baseball in the Cape League amateur baseball league in seven years, or so we’re told, so we have to believe them. He also develops a crush on Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel, TV’s Seventh Heaven) while mowing her lawn (that’s not meant as an innuendo…he was literally mowing her lawn, though that assertion won’t be bolstered by the following sentence). He likes her because she looks good in a bikini; she likes him because she’s slumming for the summer (watch the deleted scenes for that dirty little detail, expunged because it would cast doubts on the veracity of their attraction). It’s a match made in New England.
Meanwhile, Ryan has trouble on the pitcher’s mound (that’s also not an innuendo) with what a radio commentator so predictably calls his “Jekyll and Hyde pitching style.” At the crucial moment in games, he loses control and self-destructs because he has no confidence in his abilities. Can his family, friends, coach (played with paycheck-desperate abandon by Brian Dennehy), and new doe-eyed girlfriend spew enough feel-good clichés to allow him to win the crucial game?
Summer Catch had one redeeming quality, and I’ve already hinted at it: Jessica Biel does look good in a bikini. I preferred the look of the wet T-shirt later in the film, which both did and did not leave more to the imagination, but the fact is indisputable that she looks good in a bikini. Her droopy gaze and too-perfect Denise Richardsesque maw may be unnerving, her character may be cribbed straight from the one played by the future Mrs. Wayne Gretzky in The Flamingo Kid, you might be able to see her reading the cue cards while “acting,” and no one I’ve met in the real world would ever admit to being named “Tenley,” but that does not mitigate the incontrovertible truth that she looks good in a bikini.
And once again I cannot stress strongly enough that that is the movie’s only redeeming point. It is also counter-balanced by the presence of Matthew Lillard in the movie. Cue the Monty Python players screaming, “Run away! Run away!” Yes, the unlovable goofball of Scream fame once again peddles the same shtick he uses in every film. I am beginning to suspect that he’s a digital creation with only a few pre-programmed phrases and mannerisms, but to say that would take away from the heart and soul of Buzz Lightyear or James P. Sullivan. Someone please page Buffy to send this demon back to the underworld.
And what to say of the inept direction? Summer Catch was Michael Tollin’s first feature film with actors; in 1995, he directed a documentary about baseball legend Hank Aaron. Perhaps he thought he had the experience to direct a sports-themed film because he’s produced a few others, like Varsity Blues, Ready to Rumble, and Hardball. Did you see a good movie listed in there? Nope, neither did I. Summer Catch wanders from scene to scene, moving forward to something though we can never tell quite what. Oh wait, yes we can…Freddie and Jessica will “hook up,” Freddie will win the “important” game, and Matthew Lillard will “entertain” us with his “lovable” antics. All that strung together with “hot soundtrack tunes.” That’s what the box calls them at least. I call them shameless plugs for a limp soundtrack with lame songs from decent bands (like Semisonic, Collective Soul, and the Dandy Warhols), lame songs from MTV darlings (like Sum 41 and Uncle Kracker), and lamer songs from other bands you’ve never heard of. When there’s not some tune trying to be catching blaring at you, there’s the original music by George Fenton that sounds like it’s the misplaced score from something you’d see late night on Cinemax. Oh, but wait, this paragraph was supposed to be about Michael Tollin’s direction. He mistakes swoopy cameras and 360-degree dolly shots for drama, moving the camera at every possible moment, perhaps so the pre-teen target demographic doesn’t get bored watching shots that are static for more than three seconds. He mistakes the movie for a sports flick, when it’s painfully obvious that it’s just another excuse to get as much mileage out of pre-teen girls’ fleeting fascination with Freddie Prinze Jr.
An uninspiring movie, an uninspired disc. Summer Catch is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are natural, particularly the fresh green grass and azure blue skies, and source artifacts are kept to a minimum, but the mediocre 5.22Mb/sec average video bitrate leads to a dull, flat picture lacking any film-like charm. Wow, more or less exactly like the movie. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1, which is mostly forward-centric except for a few scenes where Freddie’s internal monologue harps at you from the rear channels.
For extras, you get a commentary track and deleted scenes. Both the box and the disc menus only make mention of director Michael Tollin and writer John Gatins on the commentary; I guess actress Jessica Biel wasn’t important enough to mention, for she pops in from time to time to share her vapid observations. I sort of blew my remark about Tollin earlier, so let me repeat it: He mistakes the movie for a sports flick, when it’s painfully obvious that it’s just another excuse to get as much mileage out of pre-teen girls’ fleeting fascination with Freddie Prinze Jr. Throughout the half of the commentary I could bear to watch, he talks about how authentic they tried to get the film to the actual Cape League, right down to the players wearing the uniforms worn by the Chatham Athletics, and how the coaches and players lent their names to the production. Sorry, Mike, that’s just trappings on another predictable, sappy romance. No one’s paying attention. Warner decided to present the commentary track in such a way that you would see a baseball icon on the screen that would allow you to go to deleted scenes that should be at that point in the movie. You know, just like the “follow the white rabbit” feature on The Matrix. That’s the only way you can view the commentary; it’s not selectable from the audio options while watching the movie, though you can select the French track, which actually made more sense to me, even though the only French I know is “Où sont les toilettes?” Alternately, you can watch the deleted scenes in one big chunk that adds up to about ten minutes. There’s nothing too special in the deleted footage, other than that scene I alluded to earlier that would cast some doubt on Tenley’s motives in her “romance” with Ryan.
Waste not your time on Summer Catch. If you’re looking for a baseball movie, try Bull Durham or Field of Dreams or The Natural. If you’re looking for a movie with “Summer” in the title, try John Candy’s Summer Rental, or heck, even I Know What You Did Last Summer had its moments (and I know I’m going straight to Film Critic Hell for saying that). If you want a teen-flavored romance, troll back to the 1980s when teen movies didn’t presume that teenagers had the intelligence of a Junior Mint. John Hughes, where are you when we need you?
To the gallows!