"Past the Bleachers," an ABC movie about a bereaved dad and a mysterious boy, has all the subtlety and dimension of an extended "Afterschool Special," but a fine cast, headed by Richard Dean Anderson, lends enough weight and charm to make it warming, worthwhile family fare.
Anderson plays Bill, trying to shut out the pain of his young son's death and hurting himself and his wife (Glynnis O'Connor) in the process. When a well-meaning friend, Hilton (Ken Jenkins), persuades Bill to coach a kids' baseball team, you can bet his star player, a mysterious mute boy named Lucky (expressive Grayson Fricke) with emotional scars of his own, will set Bill on the road to recovery.
It's also a foregone conclusion that Barnard Hughes, as a crotchety but wise senior citizen, will impart life lessons and a cliche or two along the way: "It's good that you care for those kids, but you take care of you ."
By the time Bill accuses Hilton of "playing God with people's lives" in the contrived wind-up, you've long realized that originality isn't a strong suit here. The pleasure is in the unforced dignity of the performances and in the show's gentle humor, particularly enjoyable whenever the kids get on the baseball field.
Based on a novel by Christopher A. Bohjalian, the film was written by Don Rhymer and directed by Michael Switzer.
* "Past the Bleachers" airs at 8 tonight on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42).