Helmers Tiller Russell and Loren Mendell tread a fine line between sympathetic portraiture and straightforward reportage in “Bad Boys of Summer,” their diverting docu about an all-convict baseball team at San Quentin State Prison. Scouting report: Prospects in theatrical big leagues are iffy. But the novelty value of a pic about hardcase hardballers should lead to exhibition play on pubcast stations and sports-centric cable networks.
Coach Earl Smith — also the prison chaplain and, by his own admission, a former gang-banger — emphasizes the efficacy of baseball as a way of disciplining tough customers into team players. (Inmates of different races, from rival gangs, must set aside differences when they suit up.) But even as Smith exhorts the convicts to coalesce as equals, two especially intriguing individuals — each doing hard time for homicide — gradually emerge as pic’s “stars”: David Miller, a garishly tattooed skinhead who non-ironically discusses his anger management issues; and Chris “Stretch” Rich, an ace pitcher who sounds ineffably melancholy as he describes killing his wife during a quarrel. Tech values are first-rate for pic about a team that, of course, must play every game at home.