Tommy Santoro’s (James Marsden) disillusionment with his own family--Dad was a mob enforcer who was shot down in front of the house--leads him to join the Marines but when the Gulf War ends with Saddam still in power Tommy flips and ends up in the brig. An FBI agent (Brian Dennehy) offers him his only way out of a multi-year sentence: Return to the Philly neighborhood he grew up in and inform on his mobbed-up cousin Joey (Giovanni Ribisi). Tommy is dismayed to find that his young brother Vincent (Brad Renfro) is also now in the life. Tommy ends up romancing Brandy (Piper Perabo) a girl he grew up with now widowed and working at Joey’s nightclub. Finally rid of Cyclops’ signature shades it’s nice to see more of X-Men’s Marsden than killer cheekbones and pursed lips including some finely honed dramatic chops. Renfro’s character is supposed to be on the slow side it seems although it’s not quite clear why that is. Ribisi as the hair-trigger tempered Joey doesn’t quite have the gravitas or necessary psychosis to intimidate. In fact all of the cast seem a bit on the young side which lends an unwelcome air of kids-playing-dress-up to the proceedings. With dark hair and a perpetually guarded expression Perabo is nearly unrecognizable as that same blonde who shook her thing on top of the bar in Coyote Ugly--although her casting does invite an unintentional snigger or two when she informs a horny patron that “the bartenders don’t dance.” Cameos by Dennis Hopper (as Tommy’s dad) Val Kilmer (as a drunk grieving his Marine son) and Tommy Lee (as “Jimmy Tats ” an overeager bouncer) are more distracting than meaningful. Writer/director Bobby Moresco (one half of the Crash writing team) proves he’s no Scorsese. The film boasts some striking cinematography and moody lighting and sparks to life whenever things turn violent. But as is often the case in mob dramas connections between characters aren’t clear. Character interaction remains on the murky side as well. Tommy chews Joey out for allowing brother Vincent to get involved in his mob dealings but no one questions Tommy’s reentry into the life. While we feel for Tommy’s dilemma Moresco fails to build sympathy or interest for other characters so by the time the final showdown occurs you won’t much care who lives and who dies.
Freddie Prinze Jr. stars as Ryan Dunne the first local boy to break into the Cape Cod Baseball League--a stable of college all-stars who descend upon the idyllic seaside town for the summer to duke it out for pro scouts. Ryan is a fairly talented pitcher but tends to choke at key moments in a game. He's got a dad (Fred Ward) and a brother (Jason Gedrick) who work blue-collar jobs and (in a typically clichéd fashion) don't want to see Ryan fail as they have. But even with all the competition Ryan still manages to make friends with rowdy catcher Billy "Bru" Brubaker (Matthew Lillard). To complicate matters Ryan gets involved with the lovely and--surprise!--rich girl named Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel) whose father (Bruce Davison) is none too pleased about his daughter's budding romance with the "boy from the wrong side of the tracks." The pressures are mounting. Will Ryan make it to the Big Show? And if so will we care?
No matter what he does Prinze seems to be in this teen flick rut. His Ryan may be the most complex character he has played so far but that isn't saying a whole lot. The actor has decent range and is capable of tackling heavier material. It's just time for him to grow up. Biel known best for her role as a troubled daughter on the family WB show 7th Heaven gets to stretch her wings here and does a good job playing an unspoiled rich girl who doesn't care what her family thinks. On the flip side Davison falls right into the villainous father figure role without trying anything new. Lillard underplays his talented slugger from USC yet manages to add a requisite amount of flair when needed. Still like his pal Prinze he needs to move on and join the big leagues. However a true standout is Brian Dennehy as the demanding but understanding coach. He is one of those actors you can always depend upon to give you a good performance.
The premise of the story in which the action is centered upon the Cape Cod Baseball League is different but the script never digs deep. Apparently the writers felt subtleties in a scene wouldn't adequately display the emotional impact needed so every cliché in the book is thrown right in your face. For example Ryan's embittered and widowed dad who has long given up his dreams will be damned if he sees Ryan fail. There are the typical barroom antics as well as the sneering rival pitcher (Corey Pearson) who wants Ryan out of the way. Or how about the "fast" girl in town (Brittany Murphy wasted in this role) with a heart of gold. You get the picture. It's clear director Michael Tollin enjoys the game of baseball. The film steps up a notch when the action is on the field. However many directors before him have portrayed the beloved sport better.