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The Final Season **
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Norway High's starting nine aim for one last championship trophy in The Final Season.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: Sean Astin, Powers Boothe, Rachael Leigh Cook, James Gammon, Tom Arnold. Rated PG.

Inspired by the true story of the Norway High Tigers, who earned 20 straight Iowa state baseball championships before their school lost its funding, The Final Season is aggressively earnest in its approach, littered with every cliché known in the sports universe. Clearly, it represents a labor of love for Sean Astin, who produces and stars, and his passion for the game cannot be questioned. Still, a confection this sickly sweet is sometimes difficult to swallow.

Astin plays Kent Stock, an aspiring banker who takes a short-term position as assistant coach at Norway because, well, it’s Norway, the hardball capital of Iowa. Legendary head coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe) approves. “The baseball tradition in Norway is as rich as the Iowa spirit,” the grizzled vet solemnly tells his young apprentice. “We grow ballplayers like corn.”

There is plenty of corn in The Final Season. Once the big-city bad apple (Michael Angarano) arrives for a much-needed dose of small-town wisdom, it is only a matter of time before he ditches his trademark cigarettes for a spot on the starting nine. Meanwhile, Van Scoyoc is ousted from the team by bottom-line-driven bureaucrats. Can Stock lead Norway to the big game? Can Superman fly?

There's nothing wrong with The Final Season that a sharper script couldn’t fix -- its heart is in the right place, even if its sentimentality is excessive to a fault. It is a rousing story, transformed into an all-too-tidy fairy tale by a screenplay rooted in all-American family values that somehow ring false. That hardly takes away from Norway High’s achievements, or its place in history as one of Iowa’s most beloved baseball institutions. But perhaps it deserves a better, more honest movie than this.

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