42: The Number of Clichés in the Movie ’42’

I have been waiting for a great new baseball movie. I saw 42 this morning. …I am still waiting. The visible and audible problem with 42 is that Jackie Robinson is so much a legend, so much bigger than life, that there are no words to encompass what he did and who he was. So, instead of attempting something specific and meaningful but maybe not as grand, 42 tries to paint a picture of the bigness of this man, this time, this history that was made. This is not necessarily a wanton endeavor. However, the script, acting, and score are all incredibly trite and cheesy, and that leaves the movie substance-less, a pile of enormous, sweeping clichés with little in the way of character development or plot. 42 is a movie about glorifying how important this man was instead of being a movie about this man, who was important.

There is nothing revelatory, nothing interesting, that we get a glimpse of in 42. A spinning newsreel voice over montage starts us off and we are handed over to Dodgers GM, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford with very bushy eyebrows), who simply declares that he is going to bring a black man to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Five minutes later, he declares that man will be Jackie Robinson. Five minutes later, he is talking to Jackie Robinson about playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Five minutes later, Jackie plays for Montreal and then, finally, makes his way to Ebbett’s Field, all the while being called names, being challenged by racism, running the bases real well, and kissing his wife. That’s all there is to this story. It is exactly what you would have predicted from an over-the-top, incredibly cheesy, inspirational sports movie.

There could have been so much more there. We could have learned something, anything. The reason he got the number 42, which is, ahem, the title of the movie, is not even addressed. Jackie Robinson is an absolute hero, a real life legend, and I learned nothing about him from 42, and it is over two hours long. I learned more about the man in the three-minute phone conversation I had with my dad after being disappointed by the film. He told me Robinson was a Republican – that he campaigned for Richard Nixon! Now that is an interesting fact. 42 may have wanted to stick to the glory and only the glory, but man did that make for a boring movie. I do not mean to say that the movie should have focused entirely on de-mything Robinson or exposing things about him for the sake of exposing them. But it could have been a little more grounded in reality, a little less a complete God-like portrayal, and more a character piece with interesting dialogue and relationships. You know, the stuff of actual life.

The most amusing part of this film is the cast. Not necessarily the acting of the cast, though most of it is passable, but the faces that pop up are surprising and sometimes hilarious. The Brooklyn Dodgers include Ryan Merriman as Dixie Walker, otherwise known as the star of such Disney Channel Original Movies as The Luck of the Irish and A Ring Of Endless Light and Smart House. Yeah. Another team member (who is awarded an inexplicable amount of screen time) is Hamish Linklater as Ralph Branca, though I recognized him immediately as the quirky brother from The New Adventures of Old Christine. T.R. Knight has a neurotic turn as a guy named Harold who wears tiny glasses, Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs (his real name is John C. McGinley) is the announcer man, Chris Meloni is adulterous manager, Leo Durocher, and my personal favorite, Alan Tudyk, or as I affectionately call him, Steve the Pirate (his role in the greatest sports movie of all time, Dodgeball) plays Ben Chapman, Phillies manager/the most racist man alive.

To put it in baseball terms, 42 is like that sad pop fly that feels good when you hit it and you think it’s going places, but then it just dies in the air. And then you are out.

Grade: C

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