Inevitably best suited to fans, “Knuckleball!” follows two of the last Major League Baseball pitchers who, at the time the pic was shot, continued to throw from their fingertips. As if taking comfy seats in the stands, and a break from their issue-oriented docu work, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg zero in on the mildly compelling personalities of knuckleballers Tim Wakefield (now retired) and R.A. Dickey, likable gents who speak mostly in sportsmen cliches about their struggles for respect in a game that rewards fastballs. Well-lensed, MLB-supported docu will struggle to benefit from the recent crossover appeal of “Moneyball.”Albeit well shaped, pic doesn’t make enough of the notion that the “patient” knuckleball fails to jive with today’s culture of immediate gratification, nor of the anxiety soft-pitchers Wakefield (Red Sox) and Dickey (Mets) might feel in a macho milieu by needing to tend to their fingernails. Game footage is excellent, enhanced by a post-production use of slo-mo that fully reveals the unpredictable trajectory of the spin-free knuckleball. Docu also benefits from interviews with articulate sportswriters such as Ben McGrath, who labels the titular pitch a “mistrusted art.”
A Break Thru Films production, in association with Major League Baseball Prods. (International sales: Cinetic Media, New York.) Produced by Dan Cogan, Christine Schomer, Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg. Executive producers, Neil Barsky, William T. Conway, Morgan Spurlock. Co-executive producers, David Check, David Galant. Directed by Ricki Stern, Annie Sundberg. Written by Stern, Sundberg, Christine Schomer.
Camera (color, HD), Charles Miller; editor, Pax Wasserman; music, Paul Brill. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight), April 22, 2012. Running time: 94 MIN.
Tim Wakefield, R.A. Dickey, Charlie Hough, Jim Bouton, Phil Niekro, Ben McGrath, Roger Angell, Dave Lennon, Tony Masserotti.