This was no college like I ever attended! Take three typical high-school seniors--the nerd (Kevin Covais) the good-looking Regular Guy (Drake Bell) and the hell-for-leather go-for-broke Horny Fat Guy (Andy Caldwell)--and let them loose during freshman orientation at fictional Fieldmont University. Just add beer marijuana and wild sex and you’ve got what may well be a new Frat House Classic one that adheres studiously to the tenets of the teen-comedy genre which also includes defying authority and destruction of public property. When it comes to the so-called “guilty pleasures” of 2008 this makes the Dean’s List. Like any good college hangover you’ll hate yourself in the morning--but you’ll still be laughing. Credit an enthusiastic cast and a refreshing (but quite appropriate) disregard for the rules. Drake Bell (of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh fame) who looks far too old to be contemplating a college career is ostensibly the leading man here. Yet the principal selling point of the film is the onscreen camaraderie between he and co-stars Caldwell who plays it full-tilt a la John Belushi and Chris Farley (and that is meant as a compliment) but holds back enough when the ensemble demands require and Covais who all but steals the film with a smart shrewd take on the big-screen geek. A good deal of the film’s energy can be traced directly to them. The whole show is the three boys and they have a great easy rapport that transcends many of the worst trappings of a film like this. They feel like friends and that goes a very long way in a film that in some ways doesn’t deserve so rich an effort but benefits from it nonetheless. College marks the feature debut of director Deb Hagan who manages at times to give the film a fresh visual perspective while maintaining a relaxed but steady momentum. College is neither original nor good but it is enjoyable (far more so than would be expected) and it is fast-paced. It also delivers exactly what it promises. If it’s bang for the buck you want it’s bang for the buck you got when you enroll in College.
In Norway Iowa (pop. 586) baseball is what you do by default—there apparently aren’t too many options. It is either baseball or gas-station get-togethers according to the (true) story in The Final Season. Set in 1991 the town’s high school baseball team the Tigers has amassed 19 State Championships in 22 years and it is the community’s heart and soul. So when a move is put in place to merge the team with another school’s for budgetary reasons the townsfolk are understandably outraged. As a nail in the coffin the team’s longtime coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) is to be replaced by his much-younger and -less-experienced assistant Kent Stock (Sean Astin) for the final season. Suddenly everyone sours on their team and its chances of notching that 20th title. But what they don't know is that there is a diamond-in-the-rough catcher (Michael Angarano) who has just moved into town—as a punishment by his dad (Tom Arnold)—and that Stock is every bit as determined as Coach Van Scoyoc to continue Norway’s winning tradition. It initially takes some time for the players to warm up to their new coach but after a while… Oh you know the drill. The updated score in Sean Astin’s sports-movie career: football 1 baseball 0. The well-traveled actor can’t quite do for Season what he did for Rudy partly because this movie is cheesy beyond repair. But Astin who also executive-produced is by far the film’s biggest asset both on and off screen. He soldiers on as Coach Stock brimming with realistic enthusiasm and fortitude perhaps to spite the woeful script. Fellow veteran actor Boothe (Sin City) rounds out Season’s two bright spots as the pitch-perfect embodiment of a baseball sage who doesn’t waste words. But he and Astin don’t fit in this movie for reasons of authenticity or lack thereof on the others’ part. That includes onetime Next Big Thing Rachael Leigh Cook who plays Astin’s much-too-cutesy love interest; Tom Arnold striking out in a role that is (mercifully!) a near cameo; and Angarano (Sky High) who gives a performance that is heavy on cliché and light on realism. Like the movie itself. It’s hard to imagine even the youngest of viewers being able to resist sarcastic laughter throughout The Final Season—that’s just the degree of its corn. Almost everything is wrong here and the result is a nearly two-hour cliché whose transparency knows no age boundaries. Both director David M. Evans (The Sandlot of course) and writers Art D'Alessandro and James Grayford seem to only be concerned with concocting unnecessary melodrama. Most of the movie’s story for example is a highly fictionalized addendum to the less-cinematic true story on which it is based. And one scene early on serves as a microcosm of the director’s contrived efforts and forced cheese: After Angarano’s Mitch plunks his classmate/teammate with a Wiffle ball Evans cues music so heavy you’d think you were watching the climax of Mystic River. It’s utterly laughable and indicative of Evans’ many missteps. As for the baseball scenes they look sufficient when shown but Final Season is so much less a sports movie than it is the feel-good stuff of Disney TV movies—nay Disney cartoons.