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Summer Catch

  summer catch
Freddie Prinze Jr. tries to convince Jessica Biel that puppy-dog eyes are the key to great acting.

© 2001, Warner Bros.
All Rights Reserved

Well, we all knew it was going to turn out like this, right?

Freddie Prinze Jr. strikes again with this late summer picture detailing the toils of love in college league baseball. "Summer Catch" (IMDb listing) doesn't suffer entirely from the weight of Prinze's ineptitude. It's crippled more by the utter lack of any finesse on the part of the filmmakers in executing such a hollow and manufactured romantic comedy. "Summer Catch" isn't so much a bad film. That would be too much fun. It's more of a deplorable and ineffective attempt to cash in on the Prinze phenomenon that only Hollywood seems to think is real. I would say "Summer Catch" is the lowest depth Prinze and his dimples could sink to, but that would be giving next summer's "Scooby-Doo" feature (Prinze takes the role of Fred) a little too much credit. Zoinks, indeed.

Ryan Dunne is a struggling blue-collar kid trying to make his dreams of minor league baseball come true. Selected to join the prestigious Cape Cod league of aspiring players, Ryan joins the fray in an attempt to get the scouts to notice him. Hoping for a successful summer of America's pastime, Ryan is blindsided by love when he meets a local rich girl named Tenley (Jessica Biel, "7th Heaven"), who inexplicably finds Ryan appealing. Encouraged by his good friend, and eternal party boy Billy (who else but Prinze lapdog Matthew Lillard?) to pursue her, yet thwarted by Tenley's rich, disapproving father (Bruce "I can play this role in my sleep" Davison), Ryan must make a choice of whether to follow his dreams, or follow his heart.

Astonishingly, Mike Tollin elects to take credit for this picture as director. As a debut feature, "Summer Catch" suffers from all the pitfalls one might expect. It's simplistic, a little too overtly earnest, colorless and rather poorly photographed, the performances are stale, and the film doesn't just work toward a climax, it becomes this Prinze zombie that has no control over itself but to reach a point where the "She's All That" star professes his love (preferably with the latest alt-rock song roaring in the background) to the young hottie co-star. This tripe, in more capable hands, can work. I've seen it done many a time. But "Summer Catch" is insulting from start to finish. It is a film that holds such a lazy attitude toward its target demo that it won't even bother to pull over to the side of the well-tread romantic comedy path for some quick flashes of honest-to-God fun. During the whole running time you know exactly where you are and where you are going. Now what kind of first impression is that to make, Mr. Tollin?

Granted, I wasn't really expecting solid writing either, but screenwriter Kevin Falls creates some strange situations that I seriously questioned. For some reason the film is unceasing in its attacks on overweight women. One of Ryan's toned teammates named Dale (Marc Blucas) loves larger women, and his fellow players tease him mercilessly for it. Sketchy, but I'll allow that. But the film doesn't let up as the Lillard character endlessly chastises the young man for his choice. The film even goes so far as to include a scene of Dale making love to a big woman as the bed breaks underneath them. Sure it's a lame joke, but to contemplate that the gag was written on paper and planned out during filming breaks the heart. Making fun is one thing, but "Summer Catch" is just plain hateful for a picture that purports itself to be a light romp.

Also in contention is the portrayal of Tenley's pure Aryan parents. By the point we get to establishing these characters as a thorn in Ryan's side, the plausibility has been thrown out of the window. Yet something struck me as terribly bumbling about how Tolin and Falls approach these characters. By making them into cartoons for Ryan to hurdle as he speeds toward love, "Summer Catch" does a great disservice to the respectability of overprotective parents. Tenley's parents are showcased as desperately pretentious beasts who practically wear swastikas on their arms as they chat about their very own Caucasianess. We've seen this before a million times over. "Summer Catch" even includes the mandatory "Boy, your kind doesn't date my daughter" speech! I wasn't expecting authenticity from this movie, but a portrayal of rich, white snobs that doesn't involve estate parties and white zinfandel is not a lot to ask for.

The element of "Summer Catch" that sours it all for good is that so many actors decided it would be a good idea to be in this film. Good actors like Beverly D'Angelo, Wilmer Valderrama ("That 70's Show"), Fred Ward, and Jessica Biel to great ones like Brian Dennehy and Brittany Murphy ("Girl, Interrupted") somehow found their way into this picture. Maybe mortgages were due, but these talents are going to live to regret agreeing to be seen in this piece of junk.

Taking the cake is Matthew Lillard. The "Scream" star still holds the title as the most obnoxious actor in the business. He spits in the face of the art form called acting, and every moment onscreen for this long time co-star of Freddie Prinze Jr.'s ("She's All That," "Wing Commander," and the upcoming "Scooby-Doo") is pure torture for us all.

You don't have to be a Freddie Prinze Jr. naysayer to see "Summer Catch" for the outrageously bad film that it is. It just helps the medicine to go down a little easier to have the knowledge that every film the young actor has made recently has been worse that the one that came before it. Whether you blame Prinze Jr., Mike Tolin, or Kevin Falls for this disaster, the truth of the matter is that whoever it is, let's pray they never want to make another elementary romantic comedy again.

Filmfodder Grade: F

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