`Scout' Swings, Misses -- Talented Roster Can't Save This One

Movie review

XX "The Scout," with Albert Brooks, Brendan Fraser, Dianne Wiest, Lane Smith. Directed by Michael Ritchie. Broadway Market, Crossroads, Everett 9, Factoria, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Kirkland Parkplace, Metro, Mountlake 9, Oak Tree, Parkway Plaza, SeaTac Mall. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised; coarse language. -----------------------------------------------------------------

Imagine a comic remake of "Fear Strikes Out," the 1957 movie about Boston Red Sox star Jimmy Piersall's nervous breakdown.

No, don't. It won't work, as this misbegotten baseball comedy proves. The more the script moves off the field, the more it ventures into the world of psychiatrists, memory blocks, random violence and abusive fathers, the more lost it seems.

It begins innocently enough, with Albert Brooks playing a New York Yankees recruiter who misfires badly by hiring a young hotshot (Michael Rapaport) who gets so nervous he upchucks and flees during his debut at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees' general manager (Lane Smith) is so steamed he sends Brooks to Mexico as punishment, while the screenwriters pile on a punishing collection of gags aimed at Mexican eating and driving habits.

Fraser to the rescue

Just in time to save the movie from its own plunge into near-racist tastelessness, "the greatest ballplayer who ever lived" arrives. Bearing the unlikely name of Steve Nebraska, he wipes out the local villagers when he's on the diamond, batting every ball out of the park and knocking down the catchers with his 100-mph throw. With visions of King Kong in his head, Brooks takes this eighth wonder of the sports world back to New York to dazzle the Yankees and help them win the World Series.

Played by the ubiquitous Brendan Fraser, Steve is almost a blank sheet, and unfortunately he remains one. It's established early on that he's a nervous overeater, he's too naive to understand his talent, and he could be dangerous because he's suppressing memories of an unhappy childhood. But we never find out much more about him, even after a psychologist (Dianne Wiest) is hired to give him an examination.

What starts out as a fairly funny, observant piece, based on a New Yorker article by Roger Angell, ends up unpleasant and unsatisfying. For all the high-priced, proven talent involved, it just doesn't play.

How did so many smart people convince themselves that it might? Perhaps they thought that by making the abusive father a figure of the past, by making Steve's erratic behavior cute rather than disturbing, they'd have a chance to establish a consistent comic tone.

Too many foul balls

But there aren't many laughs to be derived from Steve throwing dishes at reporters, or taking over Tony Bennett's nightclub act by singing an off-key version of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," or looking like a potential suicide when he climbs the roof of Yankee Stadium and Brooks tries to talk him down.

Perhaps that's why Peter Falk and director Howard Zieff abandoned the project after shooting Andrew Bergman's original script for about two weeks in the late 1970s. Brooks and Monica Johnson did a rewrite, which convinced director Michael Ritchie to get involved.

Perhaps too many cooks have spoiled "The Scout." Whatever the reason, it's a waste of Brooks, who visibly strains to establish a character, and Fraser, who at least manages to suggest that he might be an inspired Lennie in the next remake of "Of Mice and Men."