Just in time for the World Series, Showtime gives us this trifle that will never be confused with the second coming of "Bang the Drum Slowly." The sap flows freely, and while Paul Sorvino turns in a strong performance as good-guy New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, "Curveballs Along the Way" tosses in far too many fastballs and sliders to make much of an impact. It feels more like a rushed series of vignettes than a true film.
Just in time for the World Series, Showtime gives us this trifle that will never be confused with the second coming of “Bang the Drum Slowly.” The sap flows freely, and while Paul Sorvino turns in a strong performance as good-guy New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, “Curveballs Along the Way” tosses in far too many fastballs and sliders to make much of an impact. It feels more like a rushed series of vignettes than a true film.When this was all being played out for real last October, it indeed seemed straight out of a movie. And in hindsight, it should have been all the movie we needed. In trying to dramatize an event that felt like a dramatization at the time, scribe Philip Rosenberg is left to substitute superficial peaks and valleys for genuine character development. It’s a baseball movie as rendered by Jiminy Cricket. Rosenberg’s teleplay follows a more or less predictable road that is so busy rushing through Torre’s year of living apprehensively that it never really stops to smell the horsehide. Piece opens with a gauzy flashback to Joe and Frank playing ball on a Brooklyn sandlot with a man who we presume is their father. It was just Joe daydreaming. In a flash, it’s 1996, and George Steinbrenner (unflatteringly played by Kenneth Welsh, who seems to be emulating the persnickety Dr. Smith from “Lost in Space”) has just hired Joe to manage the Yanks — a “last shot” at the prize, according to him. He will soon take a ragtag bunch and turn them into champions using the simple eloquence of his hangdog face. Things start going into the dumpster for Joe personally, however, despite a new baby and a solid marriage to young wife Ali (well-played by Barbara Williams). His brother Rocco (Rummy Bishop) dies suddenly. And then Frank (portrayed crustily by Robert Loggia) falls ill and refuses medical attention. Loggia looks old enough to be Joe’s father, which comes in handy for the hospital scenes. What mars “Curveballs Along the Way” in its attempts to be a sweet little movie are, for one, the baseball game footage. In opting to shoot them on videotape, helmer Sturla Gunnarsson inadvertently gives the action the appearance of “Saturday Night Live” outtakes. Augmenting that edge of unwitting satire is a cloying audio device that constantly gleans commentary on the Yankee season from the same sports talkshow fan. As the film winds down and it grows obvious that everything’s gonna turn out just swell, the filmmakers suddenly dump any attempt at pacing and hit the fast-forward button. One minute, it’s the opening pitch of the 1996 World Series. Literally 30 seconds later, it’s the final out of Game 5. This is, indeed, the shortest World Series on record — well under five minutes, from “We’re underway!” through “The Yankees are the World Champions!” Not that we were expecting “Bull Durham” here. What we get is “Frankie’s Song.” The win-one-for-the-ticker element is sweet but almost detracts from what should be a more focused biopic on one of the major good guys of sport. But credit Sorvino for at least a partial save. He’s a true pro, and his presence alone elevates “Curveballs Along the Way” to the level of semi-watchable. Tech credits fluctuate between artful and amateurish. This could not have been an easy film to edit, and unfortunately, it shows.