The Good: Decent performances, A couple of good lines, Moments of direction
The Bad: Dull plot, Hard to empathize with the characters
The Basics: Spaceman is all right, but it is not going to make any converts to sports movies . . . or sports.
This is one of my favorite times of the year. Every year, as Summer Blockbuster Season winds down, after all the big studios have frontloaded the summer with their popcorn movies, there is a transition period in which indie films get their chance on the big screen. We've entered that time of year now and today I'm watching and reviewing the film Spaceman. I do not usually watch and review sports films - the last one I can recall watching was Moneyball (reviewed here!) - because, frankly, I'm not much into sports. I made the exception with Spaceman because it stars Josh Duhamel.
Josh Duhamel is an accomplished actor and while he used to be a staple of Summer Blockbuster Season with his participation in Transformers (reviewed here!) and its spin-offs, he has sat out the last few summers and been part of August's Artistic Release Season. This year, Spaceman gives him a chance to branch out to period sports pieces and the result is entertaining, for moments at the very least. It is worth saying at the outset that I have absolutely no knowledge of the real events upon which Spaceman is based; this is a very pure review of the film.
Opening on May 8, 1982, in Montreal, where Bill Lee has been traded after Boston no longer wanted him on their baseball team, Lee learns one of his teammates has just been fired and takes a stand. The Expos do not want to use Lee, as they don't want to capitulate on firing Rodney Scott and he shows up for games drunk. The manager of the Expos fires Lee and, despite his belief that someone will pick him up right away, as a 35 year-old, he finds the phone is not ringing off the hook. Lee's friend Dick Dennis, a failed novelist, offers to represent Lee in his search for a team that will have him.
After sending out letters to the other eleven National League Baseball teams, Lee discovers that not even the last-place team will have him because he is such a troublemaker. Frustrated, Lee goes to the local "beer league" team, the Longueuil Senators, for a game to just be able to play the game he loves. There, he discovers that local players are not at all impressed that he was once in the Majors and he is frustrated by the lack of professionalism of his teammates. Dennis is unable to find Lee work while he takes some joy in playing for the Senators, his divorce is finalized and he loses the ability to even see his children unsupervised.
Bill "Spaceman" Lee was a real baseball player and in Spaceman, he is characterized as a hard-drinking, pot-using baseball player who - despite his shortcomings in getting along with other people - is educated and compassionate. Lee takes a humanist view of employment and sports; he objects to how ball club owners treat employees, especially when they have families and obligations. Spaceman is a sports would-be redemption story that explores the politics of Major League Baseball. Lee is a man who plays the game well, but is impolitic and makes it impossible for management to keep him around; Spaceman is unlike other sports films in that it focuses a lot on the politics of sports, as opposed to being the typical comeback story.
Josh Duhamel plays Bill Lee well in Spaceman. Duhamel has good swagger and he is articulate in a way that easily sells the hidden erudite quality of the protagonist. Duhamel plays arrogant well, which seems to be the essential character trait of Bill Lee. In Spaceman, Lee talks a good game, but is very much out for himself and his own ambitions when push comes to shove. Duhamel emotes well during Lee's scenes of epiphany where he is forced to realize that the things he wants in his life may no longer be attainable - from his professional aspirations to his personal relationship with his ex-wife and children. Duhamel is actually able to emote surprisingly well with his eyes in Spaceman.
Ernie Hudson, who plays Joe on the Senators, steals the scenes he is in. Hudson has gravitas and maturity that gives Joe instant credibility. Hudson is a good foil for Duhamel and the two play off one another well. When Lee tries to simply enjoy baseball again, Hudson's Joe becomes a welcome ally and Hudson's smile is the emotional reward for the audience - far greater than any sense of empathy with the protagonist.
Spaceman is watchable in that it is directed well and writer-director Brett Rapkin tries to lure in the women right away with ample shots of Duhamel's ass. Rapkin throws in a few animated sequences for flashbacks and scenes where Lee is high and they keep Spaceman visually interesting enough. As well, there are several lines that are actually funny.
But what makes Spaceman hard to watch is that the film has a very narrow sense of scope. Bill Lee is on the downswing of his career from the outset of the film, so it is hard to empathize with his character. Lee's relative greatness at the sport he played is undersold - a few lines of exposition throughout the movie - and while he is interesting for taking moral stands and standing by his own internal convictions, his journey is predictable and more one of accepting his place in life than changing it. The journey in Spaceman is hardly an exceptional one and despite throwing in the "man wants his children back" card, the film doesn't make Bill Lee seem exceptional in any notable way.
As well, Rapkin cheaps out on the make-up effects by using archive footage of the actual Bill Lee for the film's climax, which is somewhat distracting after most of the film uses Duhamel.
The result is a film that is not swaying anyone not interested in the life and post-Majors experiences of Bill Lee to the cause. Spaceman is a post-sports movie that has its moments, but does not add up to anything exceptional.
For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
The Whole Truth
Star Trek Beyond
Breaking The Bank
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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