Summer Catch

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Over the course of a career that’s spanned both film and television, Michael Tollin has developed two specialties: the sports drama and the teen movie. Perhaps best known as the executive producer of the television show One Tree Hill and director of the film Radio (2003), Tollin was a major force in shaping youth oriented entertainment from the nineties into the two-thousands. Tollin’s feel-good summer movie, Summer Catch (2001), is a blend of sports drama and romantic comedy; a sort of marriage between Bull Durham (1988) and She’s All That (1999).

Summer Catch follows Ryan Dunne’s (Freddie Prinze Jr.) season in a Cape Cod baseball league trying to be “discovered”. When the self-sabotaging Dunne isn’t partying with his teammates (Matthew Lillard, Marc Blucas, and Christian Kane) and friends (Brittany Murphy, Gabriel Mann), he’s falling madly in love with Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel) who is summering with her family on the Cape. With the help of his dad (Fred Ward), his coach (Brian Dennehy), and all his friends there’s a chance that Ryan may just end up pitching for the Phillies.

Summer Catch ties Ryan’s struggle to make baseball his career directly to the “class warfare” brought on by his relationship with Tenley. The combination of these two narrative motifs doesn’t add anything original to the proceedings in so far as examining their intersection, but it does keep the film from being too much about one thing or the other. However, the scenes focused on baseball function as interludes in the far more engaging romantic drama rather than as a part or facet of that narrative.

Baseball is essential to Ryan’s character and the romance in Summer Catch, there’s no getting around that. The issue is that Ryan’s character is not written to be all that compelling and Freddie Prinze Jr.’s performance is merely adequate. The scenes of baseball or when baseball is discussed are only superficially engaging and even then the degree to which they are engaging is dependent upon the supporting cast who share those scenes with Freddie Prinze Jr. The far more charismatic Jessica Biel has an easier time selling the subpar script of Summer Catch to the audience but it isn’t exactly her best performance. The dramatic stakes are really only felt when Bruce Davison, Fred Ward, and Brian Dennehy are on screen.

Films like Summer Catch are a dime a dozen. Back in 2001 what sold this movie was the novelty of uniting the two biggest heartthrobs of the moment on screen. The story is essentially secondary to the spectacle of Jessica Biel in a swimsuit or Freddie Brinze Jr. panting in the pouring rain. Summer Catch is not prioritizing plot or any sort of commentary on social-economic class, but is merely selling the images of its leads as token objects for the audience to consume. Films like Summer Catch never age well as the cults of fans around the stars begin to shrink over time. This is why it is nostalgia rather than cinematic art that brings viewers back to movies like this.