"Mr. Baseball" (citywide) racks up a real home run for Tom Selleck. He recalls Clark Gable with the irascible, easy masculine charm he brings to his tailor-made role as Jack Elliot, a veteran New York Yankees hitter in the virile prime of life but on the downside of his career. Good-natured but insightful fun, this smart and sassy Universal release is more cultural-clash comedy than baseball picture, and that's a big plus for non-fans of the sport.
Within the film's swift first 10 minutes Elliot finds himself traded off to the Chunichi Dragons of Nagoya, Japan, a development he views with something considerably less than joy. From the moment he steps off the plane he looks to be a lamentably high-profile Ugly American, miserable in his fate and contemptuous of ways foreign to him. Underneath, not surprisingly, Jack is not such a bad guy, spoiled, undisciplined and quick to defy authority for sure, but intelligent and, when pushed hard enough, even capable of self-reflection.
Clearly, director Fred Schepisi and his writers are aware--how could they not be?--that Jack's story almost immediately takes on a quality of predictability. Their wise response has been to make the getting there as perceptive and amusing as possible. In this era of political correctness, Schepisi et al. inescapably find themselves on a tight wire, constantly having to balance the need to make Elliot and the Japanese he meets believably human yet avoid offensive stereotyping in their humor. To their credit they never falter.
Anyone with firsthand knowledge of Japan, its culture and society will recognize that the filmmakers have done their homework. The crux of the matter is that while the Japanese view baseball as work, Elliot insists that it should be fun--and that the Dragons might actually do better if they could feel it would be OK for them to enjoy themselves. Of course, there's right on both sides: The point is whether or not Jack, so hot-tempered and rebellious, and the rest of the Dragons will ever be able to communicate and learn from each other.
Luckily, there are two people on hand just as feisty as Jack. First is Hiroko (Aya Takanashi), a bright and attractive young woman whose unenviable job it is to get him to live up to the terms of his contract and do TV commercials, which tend to be generally sillier and less sophisticated than their American counterparts.
With two unattached individuals as handsome as Jack and beautiful as Hiroko can there be any doubt that mutual attraction will set in? Hiroko is far from being a Madame Butterfly, but the saying recited by a woman at her office is not lost on her: "Foreigner charming, foreigner romantic, foreigner go back to America."
The other person with as much mettle as Jack is the team's deceptively solemn manager (the great veteran star Ken Takakura, who won international notice with "Black Rain"), who hired him because he was convinced, after studying tapes, that Jack had one good season left in him--despite his sloppiness. Takanashi and Takakura are as vital as Selleck; Toshi Shioya as Jack's interpreter-publicist and Dennis Haysbert, as the only other American with the Dragons, also make strong impressions.
"Mr. Baseball" (rated PG-13 for sensuality and language) is by far the most commercial, mainstream project Fred Schepisi has ever been involved in--including "Roxanne"--and he brings it off with panache. Although in a broadly comic vein, Schepisi is, as always, engaged with a strong individual in conflict with society.
Tom Selleck: Jack Elliot
Ken Takakura: Uchiyama
Aya Takanashi Hiroko
Toshi Shioya: Yoji Nishimura
Dennis Haysbert: Max (Hammer) Dubois
A Universal Pictures presentation of an Outlaw production in association with Pacific Artists. Director Fred Schepisi. Producers Schepisi, Doug Claybourne, Robert Newmyer. Executive producers John Kao, Jeffrey Silver. Screenplay by Gary Ross and Kevin Wade and Monte Merrick. Cinematographer Ian Baker. Editor Peter Honess. Costumes Bruce Finlayson. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Production design Ted Haworth. Art director Katsumi Nakazawa. Set decorators Yukuki Sato, Hirohide Shibata. Sound David Kelson. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.
MPAA-rated PG-13 (for sensuality and language).