CONOR O'NEIL (KEANU REEVES) IS AFRAID of dark alleys and well he should be. With a growing number of outstanding betting debts, he is a man on the run from local bookies. As Lady Luck isn't on his side, it's up to his stockbroker friend to cover the losses. In exchange for a weekly paycheck, O'Neil agrees to coach a ragbag Little League team from the Cabrini Green housing project.
With limited baseball skills and a non-existent interest in the boys, O'Neil (to his credit) shows up for practice. But the "Kekambas" are the underdogs of the underprivileged and officials threaten to disband the team because of a shortage of participants. When his meager income is jeopardized, O'Neil approaches the local schoolteacher (Diane Lane) about two delinquent readers he needs to fill his complement. Promising to tutor the boys, he gets help from the unexpectedly attractive educator. However, this group of bickering, ball-fumbling players are a long way from winning a game and it will take a change of heart on the part of the athletes and the coach to make it to the top of the league.
Hardball might be billed as the latest inspirational sports movie, but there are no angels hovering in this outfield. The constant hurling of vulgarities from these undersized teammates is enough to send any heavenly being scampering for cover. Sporadic gunfire and back alley bullying resulting in the death of one character makes this film disturbingly heavy for preteens. Parents may also be concerned with the coach's tobacco use during practice, frequent alcohol consumption and several references to illegal drugs.
Based on a book by the same title, this film is meant as a credit to Chicago's Little League players, but the story's depiction of black children and teens will do little to erase the many racial stereotypes of inner city communities.
Despite decent performances by Reeves and many of the young actors (Julian Griffith, DeWayne Warren), language, violence and alcohol give Hardball three strikes in the family entertainment field.