Some people are sports fans, and some aren’t. But growing up in Kansas City, it’s almost a requirement for you to learn about the Negro Leagues, which blossomed some of the biggest stars in Baseball history. Including Jackie Robinson, who got his start right here in KC, via the Kansas City Monarchs. Brian Helgeland’s 42 is a biopic about that man.
The film starts at the moment that Brooklyn Dodger’s General Manager Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford, channeling his best Nick Nolte impression) decides that he’s going to put an African American on his team. The search quickly lands on Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), as he is drafted out of the KC Monarchs into the minor leagues, playing for the Montreal Royals. As history has it, eventually Robinson earns a spot on the Brooklyn Dodgers where he overcomes plenty of racial boundaries, and opens the door for African Americans to play Baseball equally, all while leading the Brooklyn Dodgers to the World Series.
42 often plays out like the most sentimental Stephen Spielberg flick that never was. Between the often-times overacting of the cast and Mark Isham’s godawful score that resembles a bootleg John Williams soundtrack, at times it’s hard to take the film as seriously as it should be taken. My line earlier about Harrison Ford channeling Nick Nolte? Totally legit. Replace that stogie that Mr. Rickey is always holding onto with a bottle of scotch and you’ve got yourself a cleaned up Nolte. It’s strange to see Harrison Ford so… BAD, I suppose.
The beginning of the film starts off so full of schlocky acting, over-sentimentality, and forced character development that it’s a miracle that 42 actually does somewhat pull itself together towards the middle of the picture. The baseball scenes were actually pretty greatly crafted. The first time Jackie Robinson steps onto the field in his first minor league game was the first time I found myself actually caring about something in the film. In this game, Robinson manages to sneak his way to every single base without ever hitting a single ball, by messing with the pitchers head. It’s a fun scene, and the first scene in the film that actually works.
Despite the over-indulgent “look at how bad racial tension was in the ’40s” vibe that 42 oozes, it still somehow managed to make me feel something during a scene when the Phillies overly racist Manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk), spews racial slur after racial slur towards Robinson while he’s at bat until he has a complete emotional breakdown in the tunnel behind the dugout, away from the public eye. It’s a pivotal point in the movie, and probably the most emotional point as well.
While 42 wasn’t exactly a BAD film, it just unfortunately wasn’t that great of one either. Considering the legacy of Jackie Robinson and the history surrounding his career, it’s a shame that 42 couldn’t have been what it should have been. It’s over-sentimentality that would even have Spielberg raising an eyebrow was just too much to take and was slathered on too thickly at the beginning. If you can hold out though, there’s still some entertainment to be had.
I Give 42 a 3/5
By Richard Pepper