The remarkable true-life story of Rickey Hill’s improbable journey to play Major League Baseball.

Pam says

“The Hill” stars Dennis Quaid.  Need I say more? I believe that I do.  With Quaid in the film, that alone hooked me into seeing the movie, but I quickly realized this isn’t the movie I was hoping to see.  Quaid stars as James Hill, a Baptist preacher out in the country whose disrespectful congregation ousts him along with his family comprised of his mousey wife, irreverent mother-in-law, and children including Rickey whose spinal issues require him to wear leg braces.  Rickey’s love of baseball supersedes his disability as he grows and learns to be competitive in the sport.  But his dream, to play in the majors, may be out of reach, particularly when his father pushes him to see himself the way others do.

We meet the young Rickey (Jesse Berry) and quickly learn of his disability and the harshness of his father’s words, reminding him that he will never be a baseball player.  His mom, Helen (Joelle Carter), a subservient and submissive wife longs to help Rickey, but doesn’t dare stand up to her domineering hubby as he pushes the Word of God and disparages Rickey’s passion.  We quickly leave the elementary school days and catapult into Rickey’s young adult life (Colin Ford) where he has found a way to break into baseball, but not until fighting numerous battles along the way.  

This could have and should have been an uplifting story based on a true one, but thanks to a superficial script and poor direction not even the likes of Quaid can resurrect it.  Compound this with a heavy-handed musical score and stilted overacting from most of the cast and you have a cringe-worthy movie that loses all inspirational value.  With a surprise ending, there’s one question to be answered: “Why did this movie get made?”

1 star

Chuck says:

My wife cracks my up sometimes, often without meaning to.  For instance, the other night we were watching Jeff Celentano’s “The Hill,” a faith-based, sports biopic based on the life of hitting phenom Rickey Hill. She went to bed early before the end rolled around and asked me the next morning, “What happened in the movie?”  I resisted the temptation to give my usual response – “They all died!” – and ended up laughing instead. I asked her, “Really? You don’t know how it ended?”

My incredulity was due to the fact that “The Hill” is woefully predictable, a movie that telegraphs its ending from the start what with its overearnest, sappy score that informs the viewer how to feel – as if there is any doubt – soft focus compositions and overbearing tone. There’s no question, the intent of Calentano and screenwriters Angelo Pizzo and Scott Marshall Smith is to move the viewer and they’re going to lay the sentiment on with a trowel to do so.

The titular character, played earnestly by Colin Ford, has one desire – to play baseball.  However, his fire-and-brimstone preacher father (Dennis Quaid) thinks that’s an impossibility, what with his son having to wear metal braces on his legs due to a degenerative spinal condition.  No, the man-of-the-cloth wants him to preach the word of God with the same authority he laces doubles into the right-center gap.  Needless to say, a great deal of conflict ensues between the two as the little boy becomes a man.

Perhaps the best thing about the film is the period details.  Taking place in rural Texas in the late 50’s and early 60’s, the viewer gets a true sense of the hardscrabble like the Hills lived, the poverty they endured palpable. And, to give credit where it is due, the performances are fine across the board. Quaid resists the temptation to overplay his role, Ford provides a solid, stolid center, Joelle Carter conveys much while doing little as Hill’s long-suffering mother and Bonnie Bedelia, laboring under an embarrassing wig, delivers a genuinely moving deathbed declaration as the family matriarch.

That being said, their grounded performances are no match for the manipulative, obvious approach through which the story is told. This sort of heavy-handed, overtly inspirational tact may have played in the 30’s and 40’s, but today it comes off as hackneyed and insulting. And that’s a shame, as in reading about Hill and his struggles, it’s obvious his story needed no embellishment. His deeds were inspiration enough, something “The Hill” doesn’t trust.


2 Stars

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