Leave it to John Grisham to concoct a screenplay about Little Leaguers that involves deception, conspiracy and criminal activity. “Mickey,” a modestly diverting indie effort aimed at family auds, should prove a solid performer in the homevid market after a smattering of regional bookings. Ads for the theatrical run emphasize the Grisham imprimatur (“The Firm,” “Runaway Jury”) as much as the heart-tugging, sportscentric plot. Similar sales tactic will enable “Mickey” to make a bigger splash in ancillary streams.
Harry Connick Jr. gives an ingratiating perf as one of the most likable income-tax cheats ever to appear on film. As Tripp Spence, a recently widowed Virginia lawyer, he comes across as sincerely selfless as he rationalizes his drastic solution to the pressing problem of his late wife’s enormous medical bills: He squirreled away more than $80,000 before declaring bankruptcy, figuring that was the only way he could continue providing for his 13-year-old son, Derrick (Shawn Salinas), a budding baseball phenom in his final Little League season.
Unfortunately, IRS agents aren’t terribly sympathetic when they uncover Tripp’s duplicity. So the lawyer seeks help from an identity-theft specialist — presumably, one of his former clients — and obtains fake documentation for himself and Derrick before taking flight. Once they’re re-established in Las Vegas, Tripp becomes Glen and Derrick becomes Mickey. For a while, they’re able to maintain a low profile.
Fortuitously, the fake birth records allow Mickey to pass as a 12-year-old, making him eligible for another year of Little League, and coach Tony Bracey (a nice turn by vet character actor Mike Starr) is delighted to have such a terrific pitcher in his lineup. Trouble is, as the Vegas team triumphs over state and regional opponents, Mickey attracts increasing media attention for his MVP prowess. Glen fears IRS investigators will take notice, as Mickey and his teammates prepare for a championship game with a visiting Cuban team at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
Grisham — who makes a cameo as a Little League official — adds a touch of political intrigue to the mix by introducing a conservative Florida senator (Peter Gill) who’s hell-bent on preventing the Cubans from participating in an all-American sporting event. Plot twist turns out to be yet another clever ploy from a novelist famous for such subterfuge. The alliance of a Castro-hating senator, IRS agents and Little League president (Richard Fullerton) enables “Mickey” to have the best of both worlds — an emotionally satisfying victory and a cautionary “Kids, don’t try this at home!” message — in the final scenes.
Despite telltale evidence of budgetary constraints — production values are at direct-to-video level — helmer Hugh Wilson (“Blast From the Past”) delivers a reasonably well-crafted piece of work. Baseball sequences are unusually persuasive. Off-the-field drama is rarely suspenseful but never less than involving.
Salinas is convincing as juve athlete and acquits himself without too much visible strain in dramatic scenes. Michelle Johnson, all grown up since her attention-grabbing debut as Michael Caine’s teen seducer in “Blame It on Rio” (1984), is largely wasted in the thankless role of a school principal whose kinda-sorta romantic involvement with Glen is not so much announced as evasively implied.
“Mickey” clearly was a labor of love for co-producers Grisham and Wilson, who opted to self-release after failing to score a distribution deal with Hollywood major leaguers. (Pic has a 2001 copyright date.)
For the record, the Little League drama is Grisham’s second original screenplay to be produced but the first for which he receives official onscreen credit. He reportedly insisted on using the pseudonym Al Hayes after helmer Robert Altman substantially rewrote his scenario for “The Gingerbread Man” (1998). Credits for “Gingerbread Man” list Grisham only as author of the “original story.”