By: Nick van Dinther
With a real-life figure like Bill “Spaceman” Lee, there is more than enough material to make an interesting biopic. Unfortunately, the creators of Spaceman decided to leave a lot of that material on the table.
Spaceman follows the life story of former Major League Baseball pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, a man who was known for his antics on and off the field. Although this is based on a true story, some of the events that take place within this film seem unbelievable. This is either writer/director Brett Rapkin taking creative liberties, or a testament to the man Spaceman truly was.
Bill Lee is portrayed by Josh Duhamel, and Duhamel is easily the best part of this film. He does a good job committing to all aspects of the character. He finds the right mix of humour and tragedy to carefully navigate through the tale of a very peculiar man. Considering this is a biopic, most scenes are largely surrounded around Mr. Lee with few other actors having much screen time. However, the supporting cast make the best out of their scenes. Ernie Hudson, Winter Ave Zoli, and Sterling K. Brown give nicely muted performances that contrast some of the more cartoonish characters in the film. Those other characters are played by W. Earl Brown and Wade Williams, who are both over-the-top and yet they don’t seem out of place within the film.
Spaceman’s main enemy is Rapkin’s writing. Aside from some clunky dialogue and some moments of distracting ridiculousness, Rapkin’s priorities are fairly messy. If you don’t know much about Bill Lee, then this movie doesn’t cater to you. His time in the majors and why it ended is never really explained in detail, and you don’t know much about him as a professional baseball player. This is a big mistake as it becomes hard to relate and sympathize with “Spaceman” when he’s striving for redemption. The film also lacks heart. Sympathy is hard to come by here, and the big emotional moments don’t carry the weight they should. With the proper mix, softer moments could’ve added contrast to the crazier elements of the story, but the execution just isn’t there.
Rapkin deserves some credit though. The decision to incorporate narration from Duhamel to help you get inside Spaceman’s head is not only smart, but used seamlessly. The voiceovers are not overdone, and they always seem to have a purpose. Also, instead of working overtime to recreate old scenes or splicing in actual footage of Bill Lee, Rapkin shows his flashbacks in animation. It’s a bold choice that wouldn’t work with every movie, but considering the tone of Spaceman, it pays off wonderfully.
Just like in baseball, Spaceman provides a combination of hits and misses. It’s not a bad movie, but the filmmakers certainly didn’t hit this one out of the park.
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Nick van Dinther: @NickVanDinther