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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Off the Black (review)

The title, we learn in the film’s final seconds, refers to a baseball term for a pitch that’s just shy of the strike zone, one that represents the slim distinction between clear victory, for either pitcher or batter, and middle-ground safety. It’s a fitting title for this smart, bone-dry, but ultimately distant indie. Kudos to Nick Nolte (Over the Hedge), of course, for embracing his own sad downfall in portraying a high-school umpire whose alcoholism and loner tendencies get a jolt via an off-diamond encounter with one of his players (Trevor Morgan: Mean Creek, who seems to have transformed himself from a little kid to a near grownup overnight) — the older man’s long-dormant paternal sensibilities are awakened by the kid’s emotional neediness, thanks to the youngster’s lack of a strong father figure. Strong performances by the impressive leads and the palpable if sublimated emotion they generate cannot, alas, overcome the sense of inconsequence the entire endeavor exudes, nor does writer/director James Ponsoldt’s dedication to stripping away all hints of schmaltz in what can be an overly sentimental genre suffice to send this one out of the park. It’s a solid double, but no home run.

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MPAA: rated R for a crude sexual remark

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb

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