Thursday, August 24, 2006

Review: Everyone's Hero (2006)

Everyone's Hero
80 minutes
Rated G

by Scott Mendelson

When I was a kid, back in the 1980s, feature-length cartoons were the epitome of 'uncool'. Aside from the occasional quality Universal cartoon (An American Tail, Land Before Time) pretty much the only studio making them was Disney, and they were nearing the end of their 20-year rut (dating basically from The Jungle Book until The Great Mouse Detective and The Little Mermaid). In general, feature length cartoons were immature, badly animated, poorly written, and condescending to the nth degree. In other words, cartoons were purely for 'babies'.

Everyone's Hero is, alas, a cartoon 'for babies'. It's a cartoon in the worst sense of the term. While, occasional clunkers aside, animated features have vastly improved in the last fifteen years, Everyone's Hero is an unfortunate reminder of the bad old days. The dialogue is overwritten, on the nose, and full of the most obvious clichés. The acting is over-the-top, obnoxiously full volume, and cloying. The plot is full of holes and horribly paced, and the attempt at portraying a very specific time in history backfires by vilifying certain people over others purely for the sake of the story. The film is easily the worst animated feature that I've seen since Shark Tale, and the only reason that it's getting distribution is because it was directed in part by Christopher Reeve.

The plot, in brief… Yankee Irving (Jake T. Austin) is a young boy who loves baseball but is quite terrible at it. More than anything, he admires his dad (a security guard at Yankee stadium) and Babe Ruth, who is currently leading the Yankees to World Series victory against the evil Chicago Cubs (I'm not kidding… the Cubbies are portrayed as downright evil in this film). Alas, the diabolical owner of the Cubs devises a scheme to steal Babe Ruth's bat, a plan that involves the evil pitcher Lefty (William H. Macy, proving to young children that south paws are fiendish bat-stealing, child attacking villains) and results in Yankee's dad (Mandy Patinkin) losing his job. Thus, Yankee sets out to find the bat and take it to Chicago before the series deciding game. Alleged adventure and morals about never giving up ensue. After about 40 minutes of this silliness, which includes a screeching and fatally obnoxious Rob Reiner as a talking baseball and a screeching and annoying Whoopi Goldberg as a talking bat, I gave up.

Just as one can never know how Stanley Kubrick would have improved Eyes Wide Shut had he not died mid-production, one cannot know how much of the blame to foist upon the late Reeve. His 1997 directorial debut, In The Gloaming, was a devastatingly good HBO drama about a young AIDS-stricken son returning home to die. His post-accident acting roles were hit and miss, from a silly, misguided remake of Rear Window, to a delightful guest turn on The Practice (where he obviously had fun playing a paraplegic who is still capable of murder).

We can't say whether he would have approved of Reiner's unforgivable overacting, which demanded that he talk at a constant pace and scream every line at top volume (a common trait of the bad 1980s toons). We can't say whether he would have approved a boring storyline that demonizes the Chicago Cubs and all of their fans, and ignores every single Yankee save for Babe Ruth. Ironically, for a movie about perseverance and personal courage, the film absolutely ignores the one Yankee of that period that symbolized those traits, Lou Gehrig.

We hope that he would have approved of the one solid piece of the film, a small scene that gives the spotlight to the much forgotten Negro League, a part of history that most of the target audience has probably never heard of. The film further spins off the rails by having its young hero ignore the obvious logical option for saving the day, which serves only to prolong the story at several key junctures (the late Chicago native Gene Siskel of course referred to this phenomenon as the Idiot Plot). And the climax blows all credibility by allowing the young hero to achieve the sort of opportunity that no actual child in his situation would ever hope to accomplish, thus undermining what could have been a fable about what a young go-getter could actually do under adversity.

Everyone's Hero is a boring, trite, obnoxious would-be fable about never giving up, yet the filmmakers obviously gave up before finessing this work to the level of adequate entertainment. To quote the would-be catchphrase, the filmmakers and cast surely should have kept on swinging.

Grade: D

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