‘42’ fails to deliver moving story

Photo Courtesy Warner Brothers
Photo Courtesy Warner Brothers

Before the summer film glut kicks in with high-budget fan films like “Iron Man 3” and “The Great Gatsby,” studios like to toss out smaller films in hopes these films will sell a few tickets and get Oscar talk started early. This year audiences are given “42,” the story of the first black baseball player to play in the major leagues.
It is better to just wait for the summer glut.
“42” is based on the true story of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) as he fights heavy racism in 1945 America and plays baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He is helped along by the team owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”) and his loving wife Rae (Nichole Behaire, “Shame”). Robinson fights his way to the top while simultaneously teaching his teammates about tolerance through America’s favorite pastime, despite the droves of people showing up to the games apparently only to scream racial slurs at him.
The message of the film is old hat and one that has been seen in “Remember the Titans” and “The Help.” The only difference is this time it is done badly. The film is built like a History Channel biography where scenes and characters are set up only to tell smaller stories about Jackie’s life, which barely adds to the overall narrative.
An example of this early on is when the film introduces the coach, who is played by Christopher Meloni from “Law and Order: SVU.” The character is set up as a no-nonsense coach who will put anyone on his team as long as they can play ball. Then he is given a strange side-story about getting caught having an affair with a Hollywood actress and the Commissioner of Baseball kick him off the team, followed by Ford’s character replacing him with some unknown old guy who barely gets any lines for the rest of the film. Historical accuracy is one thing, but there comes a point where the film is just wasting the audience’s time.
Stabler from “Law and Order” is not the only TV actor who has an on-screen cameo in “42.” Dr. Cox from “Scrubs,” O’Malley and Chief Webber from “Grey’s Anatomy” and Wash from “Firefly” all grab screen time, mostly in small parts that make their presence almost distracting since they are far more interesting to watch than Boseman.
The real problem with the film is Boseman’s performance. As schizophrenic as the film is, it could have been held together if the main character was portrayed better. Boseman makes Jackie look like he is being dragged through the Major Leagues and doing whatever anyone says just because he has nothing better to do.
The only scene where the character comes alive is one in which he is fed up with all the racism and takes it out on a bat and a cement wall. But the scene is mostly in shadow, so it is really hard to see his performance come through. Luckily Ford, the best part of the film, swoops in to rescue him.
Ford’s character offers a saving grace to the film. Ford plays a combination swarthy businessman, a God-fearing Methodist and a man who takes a no-nonsense approach to the game of baseball and brings his moral convictions to the field. Ford also gets all the best lines and he is constantly telling the endless parade of players in his office that are having issues playing with Jackie to play or get fired, telling managers to play his team or forfeit and basically just telling everyone that he is old and rich and can do what he wants — probably something Ford also does off camera.
Sadly, Ford’s performance and the TV star cameos are not enough to save the film. At the end of the day, “42” tried to go for something on the emotional level of “The Help” and ended up with something on the emotional level of a video clip played at a museum display about the history of baseball.