Film Review: ’42′

Lucas Black and Chadwick Boseman make nice in the Jackie Robinson picture "42." Credit: D. Stevens
Lucas Black and Chadwick Boseman make nice in the Jackie Robinson picture “42.”
Credit: D. Stevens

‘42’
Director: Brian Hegeland
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) globes

It begins like a parody of an inspirational sports saga: after a cheesy montage catches viewers up with Jim Crow America, grizzled baseball GM Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) peers up from his newspaper and growls that he’d like to bring the first African American to the Majors. Surely the real scene wasn’t this unimaginative, and from there, “42” — the first Jackie Robinson biopic since 1950’s “The Jackie Robinson Story,” which starred Robinson himself — can only go up. Eventually, it does.

The narrative predictably plows through Robinson’s (Chadwick Boseman) ascent from the Negro League to getting the Brooklyn Dodgers into the World Series (where they lost to the Yankees, which is probably why the film stops there). There is a constant stream of silly biopic scenes that turn reality into kitsch — Robinson even crosses home, in mega-slow-mo, to the strains of a “Thus Sprach Zarathustra” soundalike — plus a persistent syrupy score that infuses even the most perfunctory moments with Importance.

But it’s no “Remember the Titans.” This isn’t a mere comforting history lesson of racism overcome, its actions tucked snugly away in the past where they can’t hurt us. Although sometimes comically simplistic, other times it heads right into the thick of it. Boseman’s Robinson is more symbol than character — but then, Robinson, as seen here, was treated less like a human than someone designated to be the anger magnet for a country undergoing violent growing pains.

Robinson remains stoic against perpetual verbal (and sometimes physical) assaults; there are at least as many N-word-drops here as in “Django Unchained,” and is still only PG-13. It’s not because he wants to, but because he’s been tasked by history, or at least by Rickey. He has to suffer the invective of a redneck Phillies manager (Alan Tyduk), who later claims he’s only doing shtick. (He did the same to Hank Greenberg, after all.) Rickey claims such abuse is important on getting people on the side of the abused, thus tricking the populace into wanting progress.

It’s times like these “42” seems savvier than it tends to let on. A stiff production, it’s still enlivened, as it were, by the hilarious stiffness of Ford, who’s only now fully coming into the grouchiness that for the last two decades has often smacked of mere indifference. He soaks up his dialogue with a lower register that makes him sound like Sam Elliott, uttering old-timey patter like “Judas Priest!” and “What in Satan’s fire?” Chewing scenery while barely moving his jaw, he’s the film’s real MVP.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

National

Divers struggle in search for South Korean ferry…

By Jungmin Jang and Narae KimMOKPO/JINDO, South Korea (Reuters) - Rescuers struggled with strong waves and murky waters on Thursday as they searched for hundreds…

National

New Hampshire moves to decriminalize adultery

For the first time in hundreds of years, it's about to be legal to cheat on your spouse in New Hampshire.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

Movies

Review: 'Fading Gigolo' finds few jokes in women…

John Turturro writes, directs and stars in "Fading Gigolo," in which he plays a prostitute whose pimp is Woody Allen. And there's still very few jokes.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

NHL

Rangers' speed versus Flyers' size makes interesting playoff…

Among the myriad aspects that will make this Metropolitan Division semifinal series fascinating will be the battle between the Rangers' speed and the Flyers' size,…

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.