The Final Season: Ex-Hobbit Stars in Small, Pleasing Baseball Tale

Formulaic but not cynical, The Final Season has some sweet, thoughtful passages in what is otherwise just one more well-meaning, inspirational sports movie. Based on true events, the film eulogizes the Norway Tigers, Iowa's greatest high-school baseball team and the pride of a town of less than 600 people. In the early '90s, Norway's school board opted to merge with a larger nearby city, dismiss the Tigers' revered manager, Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe), and essentially erase the team's legacy of 19 state championships. In the school's final year of existence, Van Scoyoc's assistant coach, Kent Stock (Sean Astin), took the reins in the hopes of leading the disheartened boys to one last hurrah. Directed by David Mickey Evans (The Sandlot), Final Season will exasperate those who automatically roll their eyes at the thought of Field of Dreams or Hoosiers, and certainly the film relies on Midwestern small-town minutiae, underdog heroics, and baseball worship. But Evans does convincingly articulate how sports form the spiritual center of America's neglected non–media centers, and baseball purists will appreciate the movie's careful attention to the game's rituals—particularly the simple pleasures of infield practice. Ultimately, it's Final Season's unflinching modesty that keeps the movie from transcending its own conventionality: Evans and his film forget that you can't win too many games if you don't occasionally swing for the fences.

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