NEW YORK – Summer Catch is a good opportunity to ogle attractive young men and women, especially Freddie Prinze Jr., who goes shirtless within minutes of the opening credits, and Jessica Biel, whose character likes to swim — a lot. But it's not much more than that.
You'll have to put up with a predictable plot and cliche-studded dialogue. And while it involves baseball, there's surprisingly little on-the-field action. That's the case even though it was directed by Mike Tollin, who was nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy for his 1995 documentary on Hank Aaron, and written by Kevin Falls, a former sportswriter and co-executive producer of Sports Night and Arli$$.
The action here is mostly off the field, where those young men and women carouse and pursue each other.
Call it Bull Durham meets Dawson's Creek.
The setting is the Cape Cod baseball league, where hot college prospects compete for the chance to show off for talent scouts in an idyllic New England setting (the movie was actually shot in North Carolina, just as Dawson's Creek is, coincidentally).
In real life, the Cape league has produced Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, Thurman Munson, and current All-Stars including Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn and Jeff Bagwell.
All Summer Catch produces is Prinze as local boy Ryan Dunne, a doe-eyed lefthander who finally gets his chance on the mound. He already knows the field well — he's been mowing it since he was 14. Now, he hopes to transcend his blue-collar family's tradition of failure and make it big.
But gorgeous Vassar grad Tenley Parrish (Biel of the WB network's 7th Heaven) diverts his attention. Ryan mows the lawn at her parents' palatial home, and one day he gets an eyeful of her in a bikini at the pool. Tenley, who's rebelling against Dad's plans for her future, falls for this hunk as well.
So the poor kid and the rich girl fall in love, and his father (Fred Ward) and her father (Bruce Davison) try to undermine their young romance. Davison's gotten good at this by now — he also played the disapproving father to Kirsten Dunst's wild child this summer in crazy/beautiful.
Meanwhile, Ryan is struggling to get his pitching under control. He's battling a tendency to let games get away from him, and competition from a flashy, arrogant teammate (Corey Pearson, who played college baseball).
Inevitably, it all comes down to The Big Game. Luckily, Ryan has the benefit of Tenley's profound wisdom, including "Let yourself be great" and "If you want big rewards, you have to take big risks." And in case this advice didn't sink in the first time, he — and we — hear her words echo while he's in high-pressure situations on the mound. Good grief, as another fictional pitcher used to say.
Ryan's catcher, California surfer boy Billy Brubaker (Matthew Lillard), also tries to help him find the strike zone, though Brubaker's striking out at the plate himself. Their relationship is a lot like the one between Kevin Costner's and Tim Robbins' characters in Bull Durham. There, Costner played the sturdy catcher and Robbins played the wild pitcher. They also happened to do it more convincingly.
Also reminiscent of Bull Durham is the character of Dede Mulligan (Brittany Murphy), a role similar to the one Susan Sarandon played. Dede is the town tart who uses sex appeal to inspire struggling players. She even resembles Sarandon with her curly hair and enormous brown eyes. Maybe the filmmakers figured that the audience for Summer Catch is too young to have seen Bull Durham. (It came out in 1988 — that is, like, so long ago.)
One bright spot, anyway: Prinze is more believable as a lover here than he was with Monica Potter earlier this year in the equally empty Head Over Heels.
Summer Catch, a Warner Bros. Pictures film, is rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and some drinking. Running time: 100 minutes.