Baseball fans lamenting a strike-shortened season won’t get their needed fix with this virtually baseball-free baseball movie — an odd hybrid of broad comedy and a darker undercurrent of psychological drama. Even with the modest allure of Albert Brooks in what amounts to a mainstream effort, “The Scout” should get a quick trip to the showers.
Brooks both wrote (with Andrew Bergman and Monica Johnson) and stars in the film — inspired by a New Yorker magazine article — about a down-on-his-luck talent scout who discovers a combination of Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle playing ball in the inner wilds of Mexico.
What Al (Brooks) has found is Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser), a fireball-throwing, ambidextrous dream come true — albeit one with a childlike mentality, a disconcerting temper and a purposefully murky past.
After some badgering, Al inks the kid to a multimillion-dollar deal with the New York Yankees, mentioning offhandedly that he’ll allow him to pitch the first game of the World Series if the team gets there.
What follows, however, is less a baseball story than a sort of awkward reworking of “Of Mice and Men,” with Fraser as the potentially dangerous innocent and Brooks cast as the reluctant father figure, trying to keep the kid’s head together just long enough to cash in on that lucrative contract.
Still, Brooks and director Michael Ritchie (who last visited the ballpark with “The Bad News Bears”) never quite commit to either of the movie’s disparate chords — bailing out of the batter’s box in terms of the psychological drama and, after some amusing moments at the outset, generally steering clear of broad comedy.
At last, inexplicably, “The Scout” seems to remember that it’s supposed to be a baseball movie, throwing in an anticlimactic ending with a “Rocky” riff, right down to Bill Conti’s score. By then, Elvis may have left the stadium.
At his best playing the self-obsessed characters he wrote and directed in “Modern Romance” and “Lost in America,” Brooks may have learned the hard way here that playing warm and fuzzy isn’t exactly his thing. Through much of the story, Al’s indifference to Steve’s obvious psychological problems, while the source of some laughs, doesn’t elicit much sympathy, making any epiphany feel forced at best.
Fraser is appropriately impish and waiflike, but he’s pretty much left to toss out the same emotional pitch over and over again — not unlike his 109 -mile-an-hour fastball, which ceases to impress the fourth or fifth time the ball bowls over the catcher.
Dianne Wiest, as a caring psychologist, is about the only other performer of note in this two-character piece, also peppered with clever cameos by the likes of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, Tony Bennett and NBC announcer Bob Costas.
Tech credits don’t always hit the strike zone either, leaving the unmistakable sense that “The Scout” underwent extensive editing and abandoned potential subplots. Pic does score in terms of Brooks’ tacky wardrobe, while suffering a bad case of late-inning bluster with Conti’s score.