Directed By: Michael Ritchie
Written By: Albert Brooks, Andrew Bergman, Monica Johnson
Produced By: Andre E. Morgan, Albert S. Ruddy
Cast: Albert Brooks, Brendan Fraser, Dianne Wiest, George Steinbrenner
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 101 minutes
Review Date: July 30, 2010
The Scout is proof that Albert Brooks needs to come back to the big screen. Despite his voice being featured in Little Nemo and a recent stint on Weeds, Brooks has been largely absent in recent years. This is a shame because he is a true pleasure in the film industry, a comic genius who can make light, pop entertainment that’s also quirky and clever. The plots are thin, but smart. The characters have enough substance to be more than cardboard, but aren’t overwritten.
In The Scout, Brooks plays a pitch-perfect hustler named Al Percolo, a talent scout for the New York Yankees. The film opens with Percolo marveling over King Kong, blindly in love with the grand spectacle of showbiz - so blind that he frequently steamrolls over anyone who gets in the way of his ambition. He pursues a baby-faced college kid (played by a very young Michael Rapaport) who’s eager to play for the team, but breaks down in the Yankee stadium locker room, unable to take the pressure.
Percolo’s boss would rather torture him than fire him for the disaster, so he exiles him on a scouting trip to Mexico. But the dirt-lot baseball diamonds are Percolo’s destiny: He discovers the catch of his career, a local baseball hero named Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser).
For Percolo, Nebraska is a home run of a find. His arm is a Howitzer, and he can bat balls into the stratosphere. He has no family to worry over what fame will do to him. He also seems weirdly disconnected from everything but baseball, making him the perfect player for Percolo to shape and stage-manage. But when a psychiatrist (Dianne Wiest) is brought in to ensure Nebraska is sane enough to play, he begins to unravel and bristle at Percolo’s heavy hand.
Though it frequently references King Kong, The Scout has an even more likely source of inspiration in Frankenstein. Stories about the friction between fathers and sons are as old as time, and The Scout is ultimately about that perverse sort of father-son relationship based more on molding an ideal son than loving a real one. Sadly, little about Nebraska’s past is revealed to us; we learn only that his own father was abusive, but past a comic scene involving an image association test, we never get to sit in on his psychoanalysis.
This is the key to what The Scout does right. It would be a better movie if we caught even a glimpse more of the mystery lying in Nebraska’s past. But it works as it is, with him remaining a cipher - though that’s kind of who his character is, anyway. We never really crawl inside and find out what makes him tick, but Fraser plays him with such oblivious charm that it’s hard not to just laugh and roll with it.
If anything, we learn a lot more about Percolo. Brooks is a great actor, able to portray harangued neurosis with a lighter touch than, say, Woody Allen. Percolo is relentlessly driven, but he doesn’t wear you down - if anything, he seems a little lonely and awkward with the world, too consumed with chasing success to enjoy the softer pleasures in life. You can’t expect too much more from a guy who tells a rookie, “God never said people make mistakes; where did you hear that shit?”
During the image association test, Nebraska is shown a picture of a father and son fishing. It’s a Hallmark-worthy image, one that might epitomize the relationship between Percolo and Nebraska in less capable hands. Thankfully, Brooks loves the absurd too much. In another movie, there would be a hackneyed scene where the two of them play catch, all smiles. In The Scout, the catch sequence takes place in an underground garage, with Percolo peeking from behind a concrete pillar, his glove waiting for Nebraska’s high-powered throws. We also get to see Nebraska bringing his father figure a (slightly nibbled) chocolate baseball bat.
Ultimately, it’s smart silliness like that that makes The Scout an enjoyable film.
Andrew Good is a film critic and writer living in San Diego.