Hey, letís hand it to Fox for some serious cross-promotion! Clearly the October 2, 2001 DVD releases of two 1994 Brendan Fraser flicks, Airheads and The Scout, were timed to capitalize on the success of another Fraser offering that hit shelves the same day: 2001ís megahit The Mummy Returns. However, The Scout benefited from the timing in another way: itís a baseball film that arrives in stores right before the start of the playoffs. Better yet, Fraser plays a character who pitches for Yankees, a team that made the playoffs yet again - grrr! (Well, at least as I write this, they're in trouble; hopefully by the time this appears, they'll have been eliminated, though I'm not holding my breath.)(As a lifelong Orioles fan, Iím still bitter about the Jeffrey Mayer incident from 1996.)
When The Scout hit screens in 1994, baseball was mired in the midst of what would become a long, painful strike. For the first time ever, labor unrest cancelled the World Series, and the situation wasnít rectified until after the start of the 1995 season began. Advertising for The Scout actually tried to capitalize on the situation, as it promoted itself as a fix for baseball-hungry folks everywhere.
It didnít work. The Scout hit screens during the period that should have been the very end of the regular season, but I guess fans didnít feel the urge to see something related to baseball. The film grossed less than $3 million at the box office, which is pretty pathetic by any standards.
When Iíd first heard about The Scout, I thought it looked entertaining. However, I heard so many bad reviews that I gave it a pass. As such, this DVD release offered my first screening of the flick. While it definitely isnít a classic, I donít understand the fairly vicious negativity aimed at the movie. Overall, it provides a modestly entertaining experience.
As the film starts, we meet Yankees talent scout Al Percolo (Albert Brooks). A devious sort, he finagles the signing of college pitcher Tommy Lacy (Michael Rapaport). However, when Tommy hits the bigs, he shows irreversible stage fright and refuses to pitch. As punishment for Percoloís poor judgment, general manager Ron Wilson (Lane Smith) demotes him to the nowhere leagues; Percolo has to scout Mexican locations far from civilization.
After he encounters a series of comically absurd baseball situations, Percolo runs into a performance from fellow American expatriate Steve Nebraska (Fraser). The perfect player, Nebraska pitches with unhittable speed and he bats like the love child of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. (Now thereís an unpleasant image!) Percolo convinces Steve to head to the big leagues and tries to sign him to the Yankees, but vindictive Wilson declines and finally fires Percolo.
Bad move. Percolo sets up an audition for all the teams and Steveís talents instantly blow them away. A furious bidding war erupts and the Yankees eventually win with a then-huge $55 million contract. (Iím not sure, but I think this was for a four-year deal, which would remain enormous though not totally out of the realm of current reality.)
All seems well until the Yankees insist that Percolo provide a psychiatric statement that verifies Steveís stability. Percolo quickly sets up an appointment with the appropriately named Dr. H. Aaron (Dianne Wiest), but problems ensue. Steveís got some serious issues, and Dr. Aaron signs the statement only when Al agrees to bring his young client in for regular counseling.
Steve also states that he doesnít want to pitch this season, but the team insists Percolo throw them a bone. As such, he agrees that if the Yanks make the Series, Steveíll hit the mound. Apparently the teamís pretty much out of the running, so Al agrees to this unlikely possibility.
Of course, the Yanks do make the Series, if just to allow the film to have the expected climax. Steve struggles comically through his therapy and his issues, and he starts to find it hard to care about baseball. With both of their careers on the line, Percolo has to convince Steve to get out on the mound.
Will he do it? Iíll discuss that later, for within the answer lie some of my biggest problems with The Scout. (Donít worry - the appropriate spoiler warning will pop up first.) Without question, the best parts of The Scout appeared during its first half, especially prior to the arrival of Fraser. Brooks gets lots of good opportunities to be smug and sleazy while he makes his rounds, and the actor takes good advantage of these. His material isnít great, but it seems consistently amusing and reasonably engaging.
The Scout also features some very entertaining cameos. Both crooner Tony Bennett and Yankees owner/blowhard George Steinbrenner play themselves, and they get some mildly wicked moments. Steinbrenner seems to enjoy poking fun at himself, and he provides some interesting moments here.
Things start to falter when Steve hits the scene, though not badly. Iíve always liked Fraser, and heís acceptable as Steve, but I thought he went for an excessively goofy and cute vibe too much of the time. He tries so hard to make Steve into a lovable nut that he becomes irritating after a while. Fraserís choices arenít terrible, but they do make the character less likable than they should.
Where The Scout really flops, however, comes during its climax. (Hereís that spoiler warning I promised.) Before Steve takes the mound for the first game of the World Series, he freaks and heads to the top of the stadium. Al has to talk him down and convince him to pitch. Eventually he does so, and thatís where the movie should have stopped.
Instead, it forces us to watch the results of Steveís efforts. He puts up the greatest game ever pitched: 81 pitches - all of them strikes - for 27 strikeouts. Not a single member of the opposition even touches the ball. Steve also hits at least one home run in the Yankeesí 2-0 victory; we only see his first at bat, so itís unclear if he did anything else after that.
Granted, The Scout is supposed to be a fantasy to a degree, but this segment takes it too far. Frankly, it seems anticlimactic; it would be more fun to imagine Steveís success rather than see it. The reality feels less satisfying, especially when the movie posits weak-hitting Ozzie Smith as a big challenge for Steve. Actually, The Scout plays fast and loose with many baseball rules and its logic; it wants to stretch that fantasy aspect as far as it can.
Ultimately, The Scout is a fairly mediocre film. It has some fun moments, especially in its first act, but it starts to falter as it progresses. It also suffers from a weak ending. Overall, it offers a moderately enjoyable experience but it isnít anything Iíd care to see again.
The Scout appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The fine visuals of Airheads raised my hopes for The Scout, as I thought the two might offer similar pleasures. Unfortunately, The Scout suffered from a number of concerns that made it a less than positive experience.
Sharpness usually looked reasonably distinct and accurate. However, moderate softness interfered with the picture at times. In particular, wide shots seemed to be moderately fuzzy, a fact that appeared to result largely from some copious use of edge enhancement. Haloes cropped up periodically during the film, and these seemed to render wide images less crisp and detailed than they should be. Some moirť effects also occurred during the film, and the print displayed a mix of flaws. A fair amount of speckles and grit showed up through the flick, and I also saw some light grain.
Colors appeared erratic. At times they looked nicely bright and vivid, but on other occasions they came across as runny and heavy. Reds ran into particular problems, as they appeared to be rather thick and messy during much of the film. Black levels were generally acceptably deep and rich, but they could also look somewhat drab, and shadow detail seemed to be a bit murky and flat much of the time. Ultimately, some parts of The Scout looked pretty good, but the overall impression it left felt weak.
Somewhat more satisfying was the Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack of The Scout. Most comedies utilize fairly lackluster soundfields, and The Scout was no exception. The mix mainly stayed in the forward spectrum, where a few signs of life were heard. Music showed decent but unexceptional stereo separation; the delineation of the instruments seemed to be good but not terrific. Effects also demonstrated moderately solid ambience; not a lot of activity cropped up from the sides, but what I heard appeared to be reasonably well defined and distinct, and the audio meshed together pretty well.
Overall, surround usage seemed limited. For the most part, the rears added little more than general ambience. The activity level increased on a few occasions, such as during a thunderstorm sequence, but as a whole, the surrounds didnít add a lot to the equation.
Audio quality appeared good but not great. Most speech sounded acceptably natural and distinct, and I detected no problems related to intelligibility. A little edginess marred some lines, but those concerns were infrequent and modest. Music presented reasonable clarity and definition but lacked much presence; the bass response seemed a little flat and boomy. Effects came across in a similar manner; they appeared to be fairly clear and accurate, but they usually didnít deliver much punch. Ultimately, the soundtrack of The Scout was acceptably suitable for the film, but it lacked many strong points.
The Scout tosses in a few minor extras. We get a Featurette that runs for five minutes and 35 seconds. It offers the usual mix of cast and director interviews plus lots of snippets from the movie, as it exists simply to promote the flick; itís watchable but fairly uninformative. In addition, we get a two minute and 10 second Baseball Strike Newswrap. This also touts the film but uses the perspectives of ballplayers Ozzie Smith and Bob Tewksbury to relate their experiences. Itís also bland and fairly useless.
Eight TV spots show up on the disc, as does the theatrical trailer for The Scout. The first three TV ads are particularly interesting, as they show promo-specific material from Albert Brooks. Finally, the ďFox FlixĒ area offers trailers for fellow Fraser films Airheads, Bedazzled and Monkeybone.
While The Scout isnít the disaster I expected it to be, it also isnít a terribly good film. At times, the movie manifests some funny material, mostly thanks to Albert Brooks and some amusing cameos. However, the movie falters as it progresses and it features a terribly inane ending. The DVD provides watchable but flawed picture plus unremarkable sound and no really interesting extras. I didnít mind my time with The Scout, but itís not something Iíd really recommend.