'Spaceman': Film Review

SPACEMAN still 1-H 2016
Courtesy of FilmBuff
An inert look at a colorful character's true story.

Josh Duhamel plays rebel major-league pitcher Bill Lee.

Over a decade ago, director Brett Rapkin released a documentary called Spaceman: A Baseball Odyssey, focused on a lefty baseball pitcher (that's left-handed and politically leftist) whose pro career ended in 1982 but who just never gave up, continuing to pitch in places as far-flung as Cuba. It hardly set the sports-doc world on fire, but now Rapkin returns with a feature, Spaceman, chronicling the months during which, after he was cut by the Montreal Expos, it became clear that Lee would never get back into the big leagues. The presence of Bull Durham writer/director Ron Shelton as an exec producer suggests the entertainment value filmmakers saw in this story, but Rapkin's limp biopic has next to no theatrical potential despite an amiable lead performance by Josh Duhamel.

Duhamel enters the film bare-assed in a kitchen apron, cooking up a breakfast of pancakes sprinkled with pot. The green stuff will be a heavy presence throughout the pic, as will a voiceover in which the idealistic, rebellious pitcher makes his anti-establishment positions clear. (Lee has helped pen a couple of memoirs and other baseball books.) It's 1982 and Lee is playing with the Expos, where he went after a long career with the Boston Red Sox — but that's about to change: After he stands in solidarity with a teammate who has been cut, walking out of the stadium instead of pitching the evening's game, Lee is himself released.

Rapkin watches as the 35-year-old and his drinking buddy-slash-agent Dick Dennis (W. Earl Brown) try to hustle up offers from other teams. They're going to fail, but the movie shambles around waiting to deliver that news, tossing out flimsy storylines it doesn't seem to care much about: Lee's flailing relationship to the kids his estranged wife has custody of, for instance. Lee is approached by a rinky-dink team of senior citizens in neighboring Longueuil, and the way Rapkin's script sets things up, viewers who don't know the true story will soon expect a Bad News Bears-style comeback of some sort. It never arrives. Instead, the film is as shapeless as a real life — amusing in an extremely mild way on occasion, but no more goal-oriented than a protagonist who, time and again, shows that all he really cares about is getting high and tossing a ball around.

Distributor: FilmBuff
Production companies: Podium Pictures, Rhino Films, Sports Studio
Cast: Josh Duhamel, W. Earl Brown, Winter Ave Zoli, Ernie Hudson
Director-screenwriter: Brett Rapkin
Producers: Stephen Nemeth, Brett Rapkin
Executive producers: Sean Carey, Eric Gagne, Rob Goodrich, Ben Lyons, Ron Shelton, Irv Zakheim
Director of photography: Matthew Boyd
Production designer: Robert Wise
Costume designer: Corey Czerwinski
Editors: Colleen Halsey, Richard Halsey
Composer: Billy Mallery
Casting director: Donna Morong

Rated R, 89 minutes