FILM REVIEW — “The Hill” inspires while it disappoints

Published 12:02 am Friday, August 25, 2023

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“The Hill”

Briarcliff Entertainment

Directed by Jeff Celentano

Starring Dennis Quaid, Colin Ford, Joelle Carter, Bonnie Bedelia, Scott Glenn and Jesse Barry

Rated PG

2 Stars

I generally enjoy a good sports underdog movie. I love cheering on the little guy as they overcome impossible odds on the road to victory.

“The Hill” would seem to fall squarely into this category. Based on real events, it’s the story of a young kid named Ricky Hill (Jesse Barry) who is born with degenerative bone disease. Doctors tell his parents that he might not ever walk. Ricky not only walks, but he had dreams of playing professional baseball one day as well.

That sounds like a wonderfully inspirational story, especially when told through the sports movie format. I came into the film anticipating the final moment when our hero would win the pennant — except that’s not what happens in this movie.

That’s because “The Hill” is also a story about fathers and sons, with Dennis Quaid playing Ricky’s fundamentalist preacher of a father. He is a strict, God-fearing man who actively discourages his son from pursuing baseball because he believes the boy should become a preacher instead.

It’s not often that the well-meaning religious man is cast as a story’s villain in a film with such Christian underpinnings. What’s worse, the filmmakers never get into the father’s beliefs, so he simply comes across as a jerk who doesn’t support his son.

It’s a real misstep in a movie that is otherwise enthralling. It’s easy to cheer on Ricky (played in later years by Colin Ford) as he sets out to make an impression on a skeptical baseball scout (Scott Glenn).

The big game finale is thrilling and filled with enough doubt to keep you on the edge of your seat. It even has a nice reconciliation moment between the father and the son at the end. The problem is it doesn’t feel as if that emotional about-face was earned over the course of the movie.

It simply doesn’t feel real.

It’s a shame this subplot completely took me out of the rest of the movie. The film looks great, with solid 1950s/60s Americana production values. The acting is strong, especially among the kids. Quaid is also rather good, it’s just that he can only do so much with his cardboard character.

My other issue comes with the end title card. This is usually the place where the filmmakers write out the rest of our hero’s accomplishments. Once again, this falls a little short.

I understand the movie is based on a real man, and you can’t just make things up, but perhaps they could have tweaked the main struggle to better mesh with the final images. I’m being obtuse here so as not to spoil things, but I found the ending to be a bit of a disappointment.

All things considered; I did still enjoy “The Hill.” There were plenty of moments when I was caught up in Ricky’s dream of becoming a professional ballplayer. But there were also enough of these jarring story elements that pulled me away from the film’s central emotional thrust, making “The Hill” into an inspirational and a disappointing story all in one.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at