Life conforms to the lines of the ball field in Terry Lukemire’s “4192,” a hagiographic trip through the career of Pete Rose, starting with the baseball great’s formative years in high school and finishing just after hit No. 4,192, which broke Ty Cobb’s Major League record. Those looking for mention of the controversy that earned Rose a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on games, or his five-month prison sentence for tax evasion, should look elsewhere. As for hopes this docu will play far beyond Cincinnati and Philadelphia, where Rose won World Series titles, don’t bet on it.
In fact, the only mention of wagering in the entire film is when Rose and teammate Tony Perez each put up $150 on which man would be the first to inaugurate the clubhouse bathroom in the new Riverfront Stadium. A chuckling Rose tells the story without a sniff of irony.
Director Lukemire turns his camera on Rose and pretty much lets his subject tell his own story; it’s enough to make a viewer wonder if Rose himself financed the project. When other talking heads — including Reds announcer Marty Brennaman and teammates Perez and Mike Schmidt — get the chance to speak, it’s to extoll Rose’s virtues as a ballplayer.
Viewing the docu strictly as a celebration of Rose’s greatness — and as a player, he was certainly that — there are too few fresh clips of his exploits, particularly those from his early career, although the camera does linger on little-seen still photos from that period.
The pic acknowledges Rose’s onfield controversies, including his demolition of catcher Ray Fosse during the 1970 All-Star game (a play that ruined Fosse as a player), but chalks it up to Rose’s competitive fire, which it rightly compares with Cobb’s.
Some of the docu’s better moments include the story behind Pete earning the nickname Charlie Hustle, and an amusing animated sequence that chronicles the star’s move from the Reds to the Philadelphia Phillies. While a clip that features Rose in a 1970s commercial for Aqua Velva at first seems to come out of left field, a present-day shot that shows him wistfully singing the Aqua Velva theme — in tune — shows a man who appears to long for a simpler time, when playing a game well and getting rich from doing it were all that mattered.
The pic’s predictable payoff, in which Rose collects his record-setting base hit — a single — lacks a measure of adrenaline, through no fault of its own; it’s a shortcoming inherent in an achievement steeped in longevity and realized by incremental accomplishment, rather than by the thunderclap of glory represented by a towering home run.
As the docu’s narrator, J.K. Simmons walks the bases of a sandlot ballpark while amiably delivering the kind of rhapsodic prose more appropriate to “Field of Dreams” than to singing the praises of the Hit King.
Tech credits are ill-fitting. Production design of some the interstitials feels more appropriate for a commercial. The camera moves in so tightly on Rose at times that it queasily struggles to focus, and the score’s swelling strings are as relentless as Charlie Hustle on a ball field.