13 July, 2016

"Undrafted" Review (***)

Jim Belushi and Aaron Tveit share a father-son moment in "Undrafted."

I have always been a sucker for baseball films, especially ones based on a true story. It is a tried-and-true genre, and although these films tend to be formulaic in structure and predictable in conclusion, they never fail to give me goosebumps on the final, slow-motion pitch that inevitably concludes the film. Joe Mazzello’s directorial debut, “Undrafted,” is no exception. It's wildly entertaining and it delivers that feel-good ending that's common to so many baseball films. However, "Undrafted" stumbles in its disproportionate balance of drama and comedy, creating awkward, out-of-place moments that disrupt the flow of the film.

Based on the real-life experiences of Mazzello’s brother, “Undrafted” shines a light on a ragtag, intramural baseball team whose star player (played by a very stoic Aaron Tveit) fails to make the Major League Baseball draft. The film anchors itself on this dilemma as the team deals with dashed big league dreams, wondering why they play the game they do if the best among them couldn’t make the cut. But for every heartfelt moment centered on Tveit’s character, there are at least three other scripted comedic moments that drown it out. There is such an overwhelming amount of laugh-out-loud, ridiculous moments that it makes the dramatic ones feel severely out of place—so much so that I couldn’t tell if "Undrafted" was a baseball film, or a parody of one.

Despite that fact, Mazzello (who also wrote, starred-in and co-produced the film) created a very entertaining debut feature with "Undrafted." His cast of larger-than-life characters were a joy to watch and their performances complemented each other well—a difficult thing to achieve with characters with such big personalities. In a Q&A following the screening, Mazzello testified to the genuine chemistry and fun among the cast, confirming that "Undrafted" was as entertaining to film as it was for the audience to watch.

The cast of the baseball drama-comedy, "Undrafted."
I don’t aim to criticize “Undrafted” simply because it doesn’t fit within the mold of a baseball film. Independent films should, and be encouraged to, defy conventional genre norms. However, the dramatic elements in "Undrafted" created one too many confusing and awkward moments, hurting the film rather than enhancing it.

3 out of 5 stars.

“Undrafted” had its first public screening at Terminus on June 18th with quadruple-threat Joe Mazzello in attendance. The film is scheduled to be released on July 15th by Vertical Entertainment.

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