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Director:Brian Robbins
Writer:John Gatins
Paramount; PG-13; 110 minutes
Cast:Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes

Seeking a way to repay his mounting debts, washed-up gambler Conor (Keanu Reeves) decides to coach a baseball team of adolescent black kids from one of Chicago's worst neighborhoods. The plot is formulaic, but all the right numbers get plugged into its equation. Hardball mixes a tough look at urban problems with the heartwarming story of the relationship between Conor, his likeable team (the pitcher, for example, keeps cool on the mound by blasting rap through his headphones), and a devoted schoolteacher (Elizabeth Wilkes). Themes of personal redemption and the value of small gestures bubble throughout. It's never too sweet, however. As the title implies, both Conor and his kids come from real trouble. Comparisons to Bad News Bears are warranted, but Hardball outperforms its ancestor by being both gritty and uplifting, a winning combination given the current national mood.

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