AMAZING, THIS ISN'T

May 10, 1987

And now for a movie about how Little League baseball brought unilateral nuclear disarmament and world peace, which should come as a nice change of pace for anybody who has actually ever seen Little League baseball. Until now, about all Little League baseball has done is to force umpires to put their houses on the market and wear disguises in the grocery store.

But if you can swallow the idea of Little Leaguers being active in civil disobedience, and a script with more holes than the San Diego Padres, you and your kids might find some satisfaction in Amazing Grace and Chuck. Certainly Gregory Peck, Jamie Lee Curtis, William L. (To Live and Die in L.A.) Petersen and Denver Nuggets star Alex English did. They worked for scale, with Peck ending a five-year acting hiatus to play the President of the United States for less than $10,000.

Acting out of conscience is nothing new to English. He organized NBA players to aid Ethiopian famine victims and cochaired the Hands Across America Sports Committee. But in Amazing Grace he and his new Hollywood acquaintances have begotten a well-meaning but hopelessly flimsy fable about Chuck, a 12-year-old pitcher (played by rookie actor and Minneapolis Little League star Joshua Zuehlke) who gives up baseball to protest nuclear missiles. Sort of a junior Gandhi with a good heater.

Unfortunately, the reason Chuck gives up his "best thing," as he calls it, is a never-solved mystery. All we know is that one day, after touring a Montana Minuteman missile site with his class (what? your sixth-grade class didn't tour a Minuteman site?), he announces he's not throwing so much as another spitter until every missile in the world is turned into aluminum siding.

This act, of course, makes all the papers, including the one sitting on the coffee table in the Boston apartment of Amazing Grace Smith (English), "the greatest three-point shooter in history." As an actor, the only Oscar that English will ever meet is Robertson. Although English's thespian efforts never make you want to hide your head in your popcorn, it is a bit much to see the man standing as if he's about to take a charge from Charles Barkley and uttering such lines as "You mess with my friends, and I'll see you in hell!" with all the nuances of a cop reading an arrest report.

You might have expected to see English in some realistic basketball footage, not a shot of him releasing the ball and then a cut to a ball swishing in slow-motion through the hoop. But no. Even though you see him suited up as a Celtic in an actual exhibition game against the 76ers, you never see him make a basket in a continuous shot from start to finish in the game.

Anyway, inside of 90 seconds, movie time, Mr. Amazing goes from reading about the kid to joining him in protest. No motivation, no soul-searching, no agonizing. Just blip, instant retirement. O.K., so if you'll digest that, you'll digest anything, and Amazing Grace and Chuck (does that title flow like a teenager driving his first clutch, or what?) gives it to you. Here are two Miami Dolphins in Montana trying to persuade their good buddy Amazing to come back to basketball one minute and enlisting in the cause the next. Now here's a Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker (played quite passably by Cowboys linebacker Harvey Martin) quitting football. And now entire teams are joining up, even East German Olympians. You can buy that, right?

If you are still in the theater after all that, your gullibility has stretch marks. But at least there's a payoff. Your reward for wading through all this is a simple message: One person can make a difference. And even if one person can't make a difference, what counts is going through life believing one can.

At least Amazing Grace and Chuck has its heart in a new place. After all, what two groups of people are taken the least seriously in this world? Kids and jocks, right? Here, for once, kids and jocks finally get responsibility and...make a difference.

So take your kids. And a good book.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)