The Scout

1994, Movie, PG-13, 101 mins

Review

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Long in development (it was once intended as a vehicle for Rodney Dangerfield), THE SCOUT feels like a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. An amusing comic premise, mixing baseball and psychiatry, gets lost along the way in a film that displays much evidence of post-production tampering.

After his latest hotshot discovery succumbs to a bout of nerves just before his first time on the field, New York Yankees scout Al Percolo (Albert Brooks) is sent by team owner Ron Wilson (Lane Smith) on a bum assignment to South America. To his surprise, Al discovers lightning in a bottle in the person of expatriate American Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser), who's got a killer fastball and can whack consistent home runs. Despite Steve's evident mental problems, Al lures him back to the States with promises that he'll pitch the first game of the World Series if he can take the team that far. Once the Yankees have signed Steve, however, Al is told that he needs a clean bill of mental health before he'll be allowed to play ball.

Choosing a psychiatrist listed as "H. Aaron" out of the phone book, Al is a bit surprised to find that the doctor is a woman (Dianne Wiest). At first, Steve is more interested in reaping the rewards of his newfound fame than seeing Dr. Aaron, but gradually he comes to appreciate their sessions as she begins to uncover the roots of his problems. Steve takes the Yankees to the series, but on the eve of the first game, he finds himself suffering from a bout of insecurity and runs to the top of the stadium. Al has himself helicoptered down and gives Steve a heartfelt pep talk that bolsters his confidence, and Steve leads the team to victory.

For the first 20 minutes, THE SCOUT is as sharp and funny as one would expect from a film starring and co-scripted by Brooks, who rewrote (with partner Monica Johnson) a screenplay by Andrew Bergman, no slouch at comedy himself. But once the scene shifts back to New York, the film loses its focus and comic edge, getting annoyingly serious about Steve's emotional problems and his co-dependent relationship with Al. The film hints at some deep-seated reasons for the young pitcher's instability, yet Dr. Aaron, whose therapy scenes with Steve could have lent the story more depth, seems to have been largely left on the cutting room floor. This is particularly true of the ending, which cries out for Dr. Aaron to show up at the World Series and boost Steve's morale, only to ignore Wiest's character in favor of a climax that keeps Brooks and Fraser front and center. (The ending was, in fact, reshot shortly before the movie's release.)

As an actor, Brooks is most amusing when playing Al as the likeably venal type familiar from his previous films, but he's less engaging when the movie asks him to get soft-hearted. Fraser has some fun moments, but there's no comic center to his performance, and the lack of any psychological exposition strands his character at surface level. Director Michael Ritchie fails to match the pungent satire of his previous baseball comedy, THE BAD NEWS BEARS, though the movie does contain some idiosyncratic elements. One is a strange KING KONG motif that runs through the film: the 1933 classic is Al's favorite movie, and there are numerous story parallels, right down to a climax atop a New York City landmark. There are scattered laughs throughout and it's never actually tedious, but THE SCOUT would have been better if its makers had left funny enough alone. (Adult situations, profanity.) leave a comment

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