Making way for practically every sports movie/rich-girl-poor-boy romance cliche imaginable, "Summer Catch" is a glossily filmed, well-acted comedic drama that gets buried in one scene after the next of worn-out material. It's heart is in the right place, but the story seems more suitable for a film made over a decade ago.
Ryan Dunne (Freddie Prinze Jr.) is a young man who works with his blue-collar father (Fred Ward) mowing lawns and doing yard work in the gorgeous setting of Cape Cod. Ryan's true passion in life is baseball, and as a member of the Cape Cod Baseball League for the summer, he has one last chance to get noticed by the big leagues before his future indefinitely points toward repeating his family's lower-middle-class existence. Ryan is taught the hardships of love, too, in the form of lovely college grad Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel), whose wealthy father (Bruce Davison) doesn't approve of their relationship, or Tenley's dream to become an architect.
Directed by Michael Tollin, "Summer Catch" is the latest Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicle, all of which are a variation on the exact same storyline. A step above 2001's dim-witted "Head Over Heels" and 2000's just-plain-bad "Down to You," if inferior to 2000's smart "Boys and Girls," the film offers Prinze Jr. another good-guy romantic lead role. He is admittedly getting better as an actor (there was a time, back in the days of 1997's "I Know What You Did Last Summer," when he was pretty pitiful), but my reaction to his presence remains the same: earnest, but vapid.
More arresting is Jessica Biel (1998's "I'll Be Home for Christmas"), playing the stock part of the long-suffering rich girl with beautiful conviction and added depth. Biel is more than just aesthetically attractive; she also has a tough intelligence about her that is particularly fetching. Too bad, then, that the other female role in "Summer Catch" goes to the equally, if not more so, talented Brittany Murphy (1999's "Girl, Interrupted"), who is tragically wasted as feisty loose cannon DeDe, Ryan's ex-girlfriend who takes a liking to his best friend, Billy (a refreshingly underplayed Matthew Lillard). Murphy has next to nothing to do, and why she chose to appear here is a mystery.
The idyllic scenery of rural Cape Cod is sumptuously brought to life by cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt, and it's unfortunate it wasn't carried over into the clumsy screenplay by Kevin Falls and John Gatin. While the baseball sequences are thankfully short, they still save time for countless slow-motion shots of people pitching and hitting baseballs, while the crowd cheers on, culminating with the tried-and-true Big Game. The romantic element works better, due to Biel's superior turn, yet it never breaks free from being anything other than by-the-numbers. And the less said about the inappropriately silly subplots, dealing with one teammate's fling with a much older woman and another's attraction to full-figured ladies, the better off we all shall be.
"Summer Catch" is a late-summer, last-ditch effort from Warner Brothers to scrape out a few extra bucks from teenage moviegoers, and the August release date is quite telling. Adequately entertaining, but severely lacking in originality, "Summer Catch" runs its course with few surprises and not enough spontaneity to hit a home run--or even a base hit.
©2001 by Dustin Putman