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Review: Earthbound ‘Spaceman’ biopic fails to capture the essence of baseball’s Bill Lee

Josh Duhamel as pitcher Bill Lee in the movie "Spaceman."
(FilmBuff)

In the annals of baseball, the pitcher’s mound has been occupied by more than its share of colorful characters — from Dock Ellis, the Pittsburgh Pirate who claimed to have thrown a no-hitter while high on LSD, to Detroit Tiger Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who would often talk to the ball.

And then there’s Bill “Spaceman” Lee, the Boston Red Sox and Montreal Expos left-hander whose affection for marijuana and out-of-left-field antics earned him his trippy moniker.

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But while a fictionalized account of Lee’s career certainly held some sex, drugs & rock ’n’ roll potential, the blandly pedestrian film “Spaceman” seldom delivers despite an engagingly game lead performance by Josh Duhamel.

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Based on Lee’s 1984 memoir, “The Wrong Stuff,” the biopic is quick to strike the desired tone, introducing its protagonist clad only in an apron, sprinkling “herbs” over a pan of pancake batter, but he soon finds himself having to sing for his supper when his free-spirited approach to teamwork gets him released from his Montreal Expos contract and the majors won’t return his calls.

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While Duhamel’s performance has a spirited, lanky charm, the routine writing and direction by first-time nonfiction filmmaker Brett Rapkin (he profiled Lee in a 2006 documentary) cry out for the occasional change-up.

Despite having a true eccentric at its disposal — one who was immortalized in a Warren Zevon song and is currently running for governor of Vermont on Bernie Sanders’ old Liberty Union Party ticket — “Spaceman” remains forgettably down-to-earth.

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‘Spaceman’

MPAA rating: R, for drug use and language throughout.

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

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Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles; Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also on VOD


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