ZERO STARS/**** Image A- Sound B Extras C
starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Courtney Driver, Jessica Biel, Matthew Lillard
screenplay by Kevin Falls and John Gatins
directed by Michael Tollin
by Walter Chaw Summer Catch bulges the already-overcrowded shelves reserved for appalling Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicles that no one saw in theatres and, predictably, no one is renting given a second chance. Determining which of Prinze's performances and films is the worst is an exercise both diverting and daunting; to that end, I'd have to say that Summer Catch falls squarely in the middle: it's physically impossible to sit through the whole thing without a lengthy break or some sort of medium-bore narcotic, thus making it inferior to the stolid water-torture of I Know What You Did Last Summer (that film's relative enjoyability no doubt owing a great deal to Jennifer Love Hewitt's oft-invoked bustline). Still, it has going for it that it doesn't cause your eyes and ears to bleed with the consistency and volume of Down to You or Wing Commander.
A tragically-misguided hybrid of Bull Durham and Bachelor Party, Summer Catch is notable only for the spectacle of watching both Prinze Jr. and Jessica Biel getting out-performed in the same motion picture by Matthew Lillard. I was also distracted by the fact that the film's wardrobe department sloppily outfitted a bunch of scruffy townies in absolutely pristine, fresh-off-the-rack clothing--it's not the end of the world, but in this small difficulty there is demonstrated a definite lack of forethought and attention to detail. Summer Catch is so excruciating in nearly every aspect that after watching it and its scene-specific commentary track, I swear I've lost at least three years off my life and have a new white hair that carries its name.
Ryan Dunne (Prinze) is a southpaw pitcher for the Chatham A's, a Cape Cod amateur league baseball team with your usual band of post-Ron Shelton sports movie misfits. In addition to quietly religious virgin Domo (Wilmer Valderrama), young slut Dede (a typecast Brittany Murphy), a hard-swinging catcher (Lillard), and grizzled Coach Schiffner (a red-faced Brian Dennehy), there is an aging Mrs. Robinson succubus (Beverly D'Angelo) who brings baseball wisdom to her sexual dalliances with boys a third her age. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ms. D'Angelo's embarrassing cameo goes uncredited.) Ryan is a small town boy from the wrong side of the tracks; his father is a landscaper (Fred Ward) and his mother is wistfully dead. Because he's an insufferable dimwit with the thousand-yard-stare of the truly ungifted, he falls in love with a rich girl named Tenley Parrish (Biel). She shares his vacuous blessings, the bulk of her charm manifesting itself in teeny bikinis, wet T-shirts, and diaphanous sweaters. In defence of Summer Catch, there are as many PG-13 beefcake shots as cheesecake shots, and though Freddie has a stunt butt, Matthew Lillard's scrawny posterior is 100% B-list buttock. If you have any sense, however, you'll have stopped the film after it opened with no fewer than three successive voice-overs by three different characters.
Zero time is spent on establishing the characters and their relationships, and one can only surmise that they act the way they do because we've all seen the same movies. Summer Catch is more desperate to establish the Cape Cod setting (the film was shot in North Carolina), hence everyone is wearing a BC sweatshirt, drinking a Sam Adams (except for the Mexican player--he downs Dos Equis), or ordering some nice crab cakes at the "baaah." Of particular concern in a romantic comedy: there is no discernable chemistry between Prinze and Biel. Between the script, direction, and acting, there's more chance of sexy sparks flying between a log and a lipstick-wearing milk bottle, Prinze and Biel's pre-anthropomorphized forms.
No one comes off looking good in the film: the boys are idiot womanizers and the girls are idiot man-izers, the adults milquetoast or Footloose-style villains. Dull sports clichés share time with dumb romantic clichés out of The Karate Kid, and I guarantee that if you're still watching the film after thirty minutes, you're either twelve, in a coma, a film critic, or know someone involved in the production. Summer Catch is as disjointed as it is insufferable, with a pair of central performances so excrescent, there should be a toxic-materials warning label on the DVD packaging. Consider that even the title is incoherent, unless one presumes that it's referring to preteen summer audiences duped into a screening by saturation advertising in the pages of "Tiger Beat" and on The WB. Summer Catch is a relentlessly unpleasant experience; that there are worse Freddie Prinze Jr. movies is just one of those simultaneously wondrous and horrible phenomenons.
Warner's widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1 DVD presentation of Summer Catch is bright and crisp--no signs of edge enhancement, no artifacts or pixellation, and flawless shadow detail and black level. There is a slight processing problem early in a crane shot of Prinze riding a lawnmower across a detailed green field and in chapter 27 during a zoom-in on a chainlink fence. The 5.1 soundfield is underutilized in the Dolby Digital mix, especially in regards to crowd noise during the baseball games, but the dialogue is lamentably crisp, as are the teen pop hits. Special notice should be given to the packaging, a snap case splattered with what are easily the most hilarious and desperately deluded notes and table of contents in the short history of the format. ("With plenty of diamond heroics, hot soundtrack tunes and a likable array of talents portraying fun-loving Jocks, Jills and townies, this summer is quite an entertainment catch.") The packaging also neglects to mention that the feature-length commentary, in addition to director Michael Tollin and writer John Gatins, includes actress Biel, who was recorded separately.
Of course, that there's a commentary at all for a movie like Summer Catch buggers the imagination--but not more so than the yak-track itself. Tollin and Gatins either genuinely believe that their film is well-researched, well-written, and well-performed, or hope that they're persuasive enough that no one will notice that they've just turned $22 million into a giant pile of hooey. Whatever the case, the commentary begins as unintentionally hilarious but gradually becomes as grating as the regular audio track. Biel only comments on her own scenes, dropping such stunning bombs as, "It's hard to walk around in a bikini," and, "When the writing is so good, the acting just comes naturally." Over the end credits, Biel also informs us that she's seen the film three times and that it's gotten better with each viewing. I'm skeptical. Twelve deleted scenes (which can be accessed through a "baseball" icon during commentary) are almost entirely comprised of excised character development exposition, including a nice scene between Prinze and Lillard that would've justified their movie friendship nicely. A French language 5.1 dub (that improves the film immeasurably) and a sparse cast and crew filmography round out the disc. Originally published: January 7, 2002.