Baseball films, a mainstay of the summer movie season, have now spilled over into fall as a result of the Major League Baseball strike. Although "The Scout" features a ball player with abnormally proficient abilities, this time it is talent and not angels or elastic ligaments that account for his prowess. This is good news for those of us who are growing weary of baseball fantasies, a sub-genre born of the success of 1989's "Field of Dreams".
Yankee scout Al Percolo (Albert Brooks) is a shrewd, somewhat unethical huckster who is adept at securing the most gifted amateur players for his team. While this would normally be very pleasing to the team's owners and executive staff, lately Al has fallen under fire for bringing in players who are skittish to the point of abandoning the team during their debut. For this he has been sentenced to scout in Mexico, a country not usually known as a wellspring of baseball talent.
While there, however, Al stumbles across an extraordinarily talented American ball player by the name of Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser). In addition to being able to slug out homeruns with astonishing frequency, Steve has one of the fastest pitches ever recorded. When Al breaks the news long distance to his disenchanted employers, though, they are less than enthusiastic. Fine. Al is more than happy to make Steve Nebraska a free agent, available to the highest bidder. To this end he stages a demonstration for team owners.
By virtue of its generous bid, the Yankees end up with the young hotshot anyway. The contract is contingent on Nebraska's being rated suitable for play by a psychiatrist. Unbeknownst to all but the scout, Steve's past is somewhat of a mystery and, as a result, he has a tendency to act in an erratic fashion. Al, who has become Steve's mentor and best friend, chooses Dr. H. Aaron (Dianne Wiest) out of the phonebook to fulfill the clause in Steve's contract.
Dr. Aaron recognizes Steve as being excessively excitable and anxious, but in accordance with Al's insistent prodding, signs the required form on the condition that Al bring Steve back to see her on a regular basis. This agreement is suitable to all. Steve has been promised that he won't have to play until the beginning of the next season, unless the Yankees pull off the near-impossible feat of making it into the playoffs in the current season. Of course, near-impossible in a Hollywood film is akin to a done deal, but neither Steve nor Dr. Aaron feels that he is ready to handle playing just yet. Will he flake out and leave Al with egg on his face yet again?
"The Scout" is consistently, although only mildly, entertaining throughout due in large part to the performance of low-key funnyman Brooks. Brendan Fraser is engaging as his gifted protege, but Dianne Wiest is almost immediately annoying. My big problem with the film is that it ends without offering answers to a number of questions it raises including "Why was Steve in Mexico?", "What happened to his family?", and "How did he come by his talents?". These gnawing questions detract noticeably from an otherwise enjoyable film.