It’s been just over two decades since Dennis Quaid played Jim Morris in The Rookie. In The Hill, the tables have been turned. Now Quaid is the disapproving father who doesn’t understand his son’s fascination with baseball, wishing he’d focus on more important matters. By the emotional climax, will Daddy finally show up for a game? The inspirational sports story hasn’t drastically changed in the past twenty years. Granted, it is a solid formula that can overcome familiarity with a few extra ingredients. If The Hill proves anything, it’s that Quaid is still one of our more underappreciated talents. While Quaid’s presence elevates the material, The Hill often makes an extraordinary true story feel standard.
We open with an adult Rickey Hill (Colin Ford) thinking about his entire life following a big game. Jesse Berry leaves a strong impression as young Rickey, who everybody underestimates due to his leg braces. (Please refrain from making any Forest Gump references). Although he can’t run fast, Rickey can hit the ball with the heart of the champion. Rickey dreams of making it to the Major League, but his preacher father James (Quaid) insists that God has a higher purpose for him. However, Rickey remains adamant that he was put on this earth to play the game.
The potential for an uplifting sports drama is there, but The Hill struggles in the dialogue department. While romanticism comes with the territory of any sports story, some of the lines here are generic and downright corny to the point of being satirical. This is especially surprising considering that one of the screenwriters is Angelo Pizzo, who previously wrote Hoosiers and Rudy. Then again, he also scribed the often-forgotten My All American. Like that film, The Hill’s heart is in the right place, but it tries too hard to tug at the heartstrings. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Geoff Zanelli’s score, which drowns out every overly inspirational speech.
The Hill finds redemption in its performances. Ford and Berry are easy to root for as Rickey. Although the supporting cast is saddled with mostly stock characters, they all make the most of what they have to work with, a standout being Bonnie Bedelia as Rickey’s outspoken grandma. Quaid is the glue that holds the film together. The script wisely avoids turning James into an antagonist. Quaid plays him as a man torn between supporting Rickey and not wanting to see his son hurt himself. While Quaid’s performance is the best element, that’s strangely the problem with The Hill.
Although the film delves into Rickey’s physical struggles, we don’t get to know much about him outside of the fact that he loves baseball. He has virtually no personality flaws, which doesn’t make for the most identifiable protagonist. James possesses more of a character arc as he comes to terms with Rickey playing. Rickey, meanwhile, can feel sidelined. If you’re a fan of this genre and are willing to forgive the cheesier moments, The Hill may be perfectly serviceable family entertainment. For a film that’s supposed to be about Rickey’s adversities and triumphs, though, there seems to be a lot more focus on the other Hill.