Bleacher Bums
directed by Saul Rubinek
(Paramount, 2002)

If you're not going to get to the ballpark any time soon and you're feeling nostalgic for that baseball fan chatter in the stands, you could do a lot worse than Bleacher Bums. You also could do much, much better.

Joe Mantegna and Dennis Franz helped co-write the original play version of Bleacher Bums back in the '70s, and the two also wrote a television treatment at that time. This time around, however, the screenplay is the work of Mitch Paradise and Dennis Paoli, two writers whose resumes feature horror/thriller flicks (and, in Paradise's case, the TV series Jake & the Fatman) more than anything involving incisive dialogue.

Now, this affinity for horror may play well with fans of the Chicago Cubs, the team on which Bleacher Bums is based -- after all, fans who haven't seen a World Series pennant in nearly a century should be well attuned to the horror genre. Finding that many ways to lose is a horror all its own.

But Bleacher Bums often seems to have some spark missing, some flavor of the field that somehow doesn't leap the ivy-covered wall except for when an opposing outfielder goes after one of the taunting bums.

Bums is a day at the ballpark with the denizens of the outfield cheap seats, the (for the most part) guys who have stuck with the Chicago Bruins (Bruins, Cubs, get it?) all their lives with little athletic glory to show for it. Some are there because of rabid dedication -- see Rupert, the Id-fan whose taunting gets him hauled off by security, and Greg, a blind guy who has encyclopedic knowledge -- but most are there with a love of wagering that equals their love of the Bruins.

Bleacher Bums the movie feels like the theater release it first was; added staging includes shots of ballplayers in action and a few shots outside a renamed Wrigley Field. And its mostly rapid-fire dialogue, with overlapping lines, sometimes leaves little room for breath. These characters sit beside each other day after day during the season, with lucky seats and strong affections and simmering feuds.

They bicker and make up, through game and a rain delay which provides one of the film's best interludes: a visit to the scorekeepers high above the seats (Charles Durning and Maury Chaykin), the two guys who probably have the purest love of the game of them all.

It's all entertaining while it lasts but, unlike a great ballgame, didn't stick with me much beyond the final out.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 10 January 2004

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