By all rights, “The Catcher Was a Spy,” a World War II thriller chronicling the exploits of Boston Red Sox player-turned-would-be government assassin Moe Berg, should be batting close to a thousand.
But despite that intriguing fact-based storyline, a screenplay by “Saving Private Ryan” scribe Robert Rodat and Paul Rudd heading a stellar international cast that also includes Paul Giamatti, Jeff Daniels, Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce and Giancarlo Giannini, the film proves to be oddly uninvolving.
While Berg (Rudd) was regarded as an unremarkable ball player, his off-field stats were a different story — a walking enigma of a Princeton grad fluent in numerous languages and remaining mum regarding his sexual preference despite his relationship with the vivacious Estella Huni (Miller).
That combination of athleticism, intelligence and the ability to keep secrets would attract the attention of the CIA predecessor Office of Strategic Services, which enlisted Berg on several missions, including license to kill physicist Werner Heisenberg, thought to be developing an atomic bomb for Nazi Germany.
Potent stuff, to be sure, but while the always affable Rudd is up to the more serious task at hand, the overly studied direction by Australian Ben Lewin frustratingly keeps the audience at arm’s length from both its lead and that surprising chain of events, which feel as palpably pieced together as the stitching on Berg’s baseballs.
‘The Catcher Was a Spy’
Rated: R for some sexuality, violence and language
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino; Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica