Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

The sports movie. An American icon if ever there was one is the sports movie. Then we go ahead and toss in some baseball into the mix and an underdog going up against The MAN, and you have just stepped into sports movie 101 folks. So before you decide to check out this film ‘The Final Season’ understand that it brings nothing new or fresh or unique to genre of sports movies, and even discards some staples of the genre, but it is a sports movie, and to that end, it doesn’t disappoint.

Norway Iowa in the early 1990’s has a population of roughly the amount of people you can fit in a movie theater, but under the dogged tutelage of legendary baseball coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) this tiny town has a high school baseball team which has won 19 state titles in 24 years. Under any definition, that is a sports dynasty. Young Kent Stock (Sean Astin) is on his way to take a job in the big city, but before he starts that leg of his life he transfers from his present school as head women’s volleyball coach to spend the last two months of the baseball season under Coach Van Scoyoc’s tutelage, just to learn the ways of a legend.

Though the season ended with yet another state championship for the Norway Tigers, it seems ‘progress’ has caught up to the small school as the state has decided that the town is just too small to have its own high school and has plans to fold it in to a nearby school district the year after next. The kind farming townsfolk of Norway are obviously upset, but the board, armed with fancy facts from big city administrator Polly Hudson (Rachel Leigh-Cook), is convinced that this is best for the community and the student body. Coach Stock tries to inform Ms. Hudson that rarely do these mergers ever benefit the town being absorbed, but the plan goes ahead.

The concern of evil school administrator Makepeace (Marshall Bell) is that the team will win yet another championship in the swan song season and become martyrs, which he considers unacceptable. His initial step was to just disband the team, but upon meeting with Coach Van Scoyoc, he will allow the season to go on only if the coach steps down. Reluctantly the coach does just this and Makepeace has the second brainstorm of bringing in the ex Volleyball coach to lead the team, figuring there’s no way he could lead them anywhere. Perhaps he should have asked somebody. It’s a sports movie so we know there will be doubt amongst the players, coach will have to win them over, there will be conflict, a resurrection of sorts and somehow, someway it’s going to have to come to the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Or the bottom of the seventh, since that’s what they play in high school. Somebody cue the dramatic music.

Trust me when I tell you that ‘The Final Season’ is one fairly long overly clichéd sports flick, and there is little in arguing this. We have no doubts that when pretty Rachel Leigh-Cook shows up on the scene that there will be romance between her and Sean Astin, however it was not a focal point of the story, which I thought was a good thing. When we meet young Mitch Akers as played by Michael Angarano, complete with his Fonzie leather jacket and cigarettes, showing disrespect to his father played by Tom Arnold (how lucky is that dude?) we know eventually his incredibly bad attitude will turn around and he will become a solid citizen for his newfound baseball brothers. We know that when these kids eventually make it to the championship game they will face a goliath-esque foe that they probably don’t even belong on the field with, and despite the fact we know all these things from the opening credits, the question we ask is will this going from clichéd plot point to clichéd plot be enjoyable or entertaining? In this case, yes it is.

I shouldn’t even call ‘The Final Season’ a sports movie because it is really a pure Baseball movie first and foremost. Director David M. Evans has discarded a lot of the peripheral melodrama you often find in these types of movies, such as paring down the relationship of the coach and his girlfriend and even limiting the ‘rebel kid’ narrative and maintains the focus on the sport and the games. There is a lot of baseball in this film, with a lot of it being heavy on baseball strategy and jargon that may just turn off people who aren’t too familiar with how the subtleties of the game of baseball works, and since this movie runs over two hours, that’s a lot of baseball, but I’m of the opinion that this is a good thing. It’s not devoid of melodrama as the backdrop of the small dying farm town is strong and there is a wealth of characters to deal with, but for the most part the bulk of the drama was within the games the kids were playing.

‘The Last Season’ isn’t a great film by any stretch but it’s not a bad one either and it delivers on what it promises. Plus it has ‘Rudy’ in it, so you know, how bad can it be? If you’re looking for something original then watch… well… nothing. If you want to see if someone can get a base hit with two outs, two strikes, down a by one in the last inning with two in scoring position against the rebirth of Nolan Ryan, then this may be one to check out.

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