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Big League Stew

Five things to like about ’42,’ the movie about Jackie Robinson

Big League Stew

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(Warner Bros. Pictures)

It's hard not to like "42," the new Jackie Robinson biopic that hit theaters Friday.

Hollywood knows what resonates with viewers, and has a knack for making everything — the music, that one great line, that slow-motion moment — wrap up neatly to trigger the exact emotional response it thinks you should have. So unless you're heartless, being purposely obtuse or just way too cool for a movie version of Jackie Robinson, "42" is going to leave you feeling good about baseball, cheering Robinson and booing racism. In about the most paint-by-numbers way possible. That's not bad, it's just Hollywood.

And Hollywood comes with its limitations. It boils down a complex story of race, history and baseball into two hours worth of important moments. It scratches the surface on how Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) deals with venomous attacks, how he bonds with his teammates and what Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) is hoping to accomplish by making Robinson baseball's first black player. "42" doesn't do much to develop the rest of the Brooklyn Dodgers, save for a Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black) scene here and an anti-Jackie petition there. But if you wanted depth, you'd read a book, right? Not sit and eat popcorn while Han Solo saves the galaxy ... err, intergrates baseball.

Ah yes, baseball, that's what we're about here. So we'll cut the movie review (not our specialty anyway) and say this: Despite all the flaws pointed out above, "42" still matters. It's an important movie, even if it's not a great one.

Here are five things I liked about the film:

Hey, it's a baseball movie. Let's skip all the historical significance for a moment and just be happy that there's a baseball movie in theaters. It's not the '90s anymore, so we're not being treated to the golden era of baseball flicks. The last major motion picture worth mentioning? "Moneyball," which came out in 2011. Maybe 2012's "Trouble With the Curve" counts. Maybe not. But "42," is tried-and-true baseball, 100 percent. The baseball scenes are exciting and well portrayed. It'll make you want to pick up a glove or a bat.

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(AP)

That Jay-Z song isn't in the movie. Personally, my No. 1 hope going into "42" was that the "Brooklyn Go Hard" song by Jay-Z and Santigold that's been annoying me in the commercials was not in the movie. Fine song, no place in a movie set in the 1940s. There were a few moments during the film where I feared the song was going to dope in and there'd be a montage of Jackie Robinson plays and my heart would break a little. But I'm happy to report that was not the case. Thank you, "42."

Harrison Ford, hero of baseball: We've seen Ford as Han Solo in the "Star Wars" movies and as Indiana Jones in that series. He's a legit cinema hero. Now he's playing the hero role here, as Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, who viewers see as a one-man, cigar-toting crusader for Jackie Robinson. Ford is far more grumbly than Han Solo and less nimble than Indy, but he gives a strong performance.

Red Barber FTW! The best of the small-role characters is Red Barber, the broadcast legend who called Brooklyn Dodger games on the radio in those days. John C. McGinley, who many of us know best as Dr. Cox on "Scrubs" or from his long acting résumé, magically channels Barber, signature catch-phrases and all. Having an old-time announcer gives the movie a bit more of an authentic baseball soul.

It's a good introduction to Jackie Robinson, and for some people, a reason to care about baseball: If you're a baseball fan, you know the story of Jackie Robinson. Heck, you've probably read a book about him or watched a documentary. But let's consider, for a second, the people who aren't really baseball fans. The moviegoer, for example. There's a good chance this will be a popular movie, one that extends beyond baseball fans. So let's be real: Baseball could use all the new fans it can pick up. And while it's tough to say whether you should bring kids to see "42" — it's rated PG-13 and the racism is nasty at some points — it's the kind of movie that could get the younger audience more interested in the game.

Too Hollywood or not, we can all agree that's a good thing.

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