'Bottom of the 9th': Film Review

Bottom of the 9th-Publicity Still-H 2019
Stano Productions
Local color and credible performances boost a familiar tale.

Joe Manganiello plays a onetime baseball hopeful attempting to get his life back in Raymond De Felitta's drama.

With films like Two Family House and City Island, director Raymond De Felitta found easy charm where many other indie filmmakers try too hard: in working-class New York neighborhoods whose Italian-American residents harbor dreams they rarely attempt to make real. He weds his sensibility to a conventional sports-comeback story in Bottom of the 9th, in which a Bronx man (Joe Manganiello) fresh out of prison gets a taste of the baseball career he almost had. Though Robert Bruzio's script holds far fewer surprises than the aforementioned De Felitta-penned ones, the director's sense of place counts for a lot here, and a sympathetic lead performance will have most who catch the film rooting for this underdog.

Manganiello's Sonny had just signed to the Yankees as a kid when, out celebrating his newfound riches, he was taunted by neighbors who wanted a fight. One of the troublemakers died, and Sonny was sent to jail before he ever played a game. Refusing in its flashbacks to show us mitigating details from the start, the pic emphasizes that being an accidental killer does little to assuage Sonny's guilt. Upon his release, he seems almost incapable of the kind of mistake that sent him away.

Returning to his dead mother's apartment near Arthur Avenue, Sonny quickly bumps into those who never left — like the girlfriend whose heart he broke when he insisted she should go on with her life during his sentence. Angela (Sofia Vergara) is now a single mother with a 10-year-old, and her cousin Billy (Yancey Arias), now a cop, urges Sonny to leave her alone. Other locals, like the family of the dead kid, are even less happy to see him back on the streets. Humility is a big component of Manganiello's performance — rather than defying those who belittle him, Sonny seems determined to carry that weight around.

He stops short, though, of enduring a job that proves humiliating. He soon lands work helping his old coach Hannis (Michael Rispoli, the star of Two Family House), who now coaches a Yankees farm team on Staten Island. Hannis assigns him to an arrogant young hitter, hoping the veteran will keep him from letting his ego derail his career. Instead, the 38-year-old Sonny shows the youngster (and everyone else) that 18 years in prison didn't diminish his swing much.

Viewers will see where this is headed, but will also understand the realistic limits to the ambitions the pic has both for itself and its hero. De Felitta doesn't treat himself as a David O. Russell or Darren Aronofsky, trying out a genre that ought to be beneath him; he just humanizes the familiar action. Similarly, sports-loving moviegoers looking for a big dose of ball-swatting romance might want to stay home and rewatch The Natural or The Rookie. (And follow it up with a bracing slap of Brockmire.) Bottom of the 9th wraps up with no extra innings, delivering just enough melodrama and Americana to earn its time on the diamond.

Production companies: Off the Chart, 3:59
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Joe Manganiello, Sofia Vergara, Michael Rispoli, Denis O'Hare, Xavier Scott Evans, Yancey Arias, Masami Kosaka, James Madio, Burt Young
Director: Raymond De Felitta
Screenwriter: Robert Bruzio
Producers: William Chartoff, Eric Fischer, Lynn Hendee, Joe Manganiello, Nick Manganiello
Executive producers: Gin Kai Chan, Luke Daniels, Justin Deimen, Christopher Figg
Director of photography: Barry Markowitz
Production designer: Javiera Varas
Costume designers: Tere Duncan, Kama K. Royz
Editor: David Leonard
Composer: Stephen Endelman
Casting director: Todd Thaler

Rated R, 111 minutes