Richard Dean Anderson stars as Bill Parish, a man obsessed with the death of his 11-year-old son. When he’s approached by Little League commissioner Hilton Burberry (Ken Jenkins) to coach the team Parish’s son had been on, Parish decides to take the job.
Immediately, Parish becomes intrigued with Lucky Diamond (Grayson Fricke), a mute boy with a mysterious background who also happens to be one heck of a ball player. That they’re made for each other is clear from the start, which takes away most of the movie’s dramatic tension. But they do make a decent team. Anderson plays his role sympathetically, and Fricke does a wonderful job of making Lucky a complicated and likable character without uttering a word. The Little League team itself is like a watered-down Bad News Bears, but some of the kids’ quirks are amusing, and Anderson, with good comic timing, plays off them well. Barnard Hughes, as a wry senior citizen recruited to be assistant coach, steals every scene he’s in, and gives the movie some much-needed sparks. Glynnis O’Connor, who plays Bill’s wife, Harper, gets the thankless job of looking pained for reasons the script mostly leaves out.
The screenplay, by Don Rhymer (based on a novel by Christopher A. Bohjalian) has some nice nuances as well as some genuinely funny lines. But it also gets predictably telepic-weepy, and has way too many holes. Why, for example, does Bill, who seems to have an important job at the local college — actually, for all viewers know, he could be its chancellor — have so much time to play ball? Why does Lucky, the best hitter and pitcher, play center field?
Some questions are answered by the movie’s denouement, such as why Burberry struts around like a corporate muck-a-muck. For most of the movie, however, he seems like a man living in the past (he was G.M. of the Red Sox before an accident occurred, which has everything to do with Lucky and Bill’s coming together) and a man taking a season of Little League way too seriously.
“Past the Bleachers” is directed by Michael Switzer in an easy, unhurried manner, which makes the choice to leave out information an interesting one: The lack of exposition helps make the setting and characters feel small-town real. Switzer, however, leaves out too much, and the effect is ultimately annoying.