Grade: C-

Clearly well-intentioned but wildly overplotted and, curiously
enough, emotionally underdeveloped, “The Basket”–a regional
film made by a production company called North by Northwest
based in Washington state–plays like a concatenation of
episodes of “Little House and the Prairie.” The script,
attributed to four writers who must have each brought a full
quota of ideas to the party, centers on the difficult
assimilation of two German orphans into the rural society of
Washington state in 1917, while the war was still raging and
one local youth has returned minus a leg. But in addition to
this basic theme of anti-German hostility and the attempts of
the two kids to find acceptance, the picture also deals with
economic problems among the farmers, illness in the community,
issues of familial guilt, and local rivalries; the glue that’s
meant to bind all of this together is the introduction of the
newfangled game of basketball among the younsters by the new
schoolteacher, an easterner played by the Voice of Oscar
himself, Peter Coyote. In an extremely labored and overused
analogy, the sport is compared to a German opera called “The
Basket” which the teacher uses as a teaching tool; and just
as a magic basket saves all in the music drama, so the game
brings harmony and cooperation to an area where strife and
economic distress had threatened. In sum, the “basket”
teaches, in a quite heavy-handed way, that yes, we can all
just get along.

You have to congratulate the makers of “The Basket” on the
technical proficiency of their work. The picture looks nice,
with attractive cinematography and decent production design–
something not always easy in a low-budget period piece. And
the cast, both the locals and imported talent like Coyote and
Karen Allen, do a workmanlike job (even if the German accents
of Robert Karl Burke and Amber Willenborg seem forced and the
appearance of Joey Travolta in a cameo near the close is

But in all honesty the film attempts to get across so many
moral lessons that its lack of subtlety becomes almost
hectoring as it ambles its way to a pat, predictable conclusion
(there’s a final twist, but it’s not much of a surprise). The
didacticism of the piece might make for well-meaning family
entertainment, but in the final analysis the result seems more
appropriate for cable TV (the PAX channel, let’s say) than
the bigscreen. In a theatre auditorium, “The Basket” comes
off like medicine–it might do some viewers a bit of good,
but it really doesn’t taste all that great.

Still, if you’re searching for a movie to take the kids to that
won’t do them any harm, although even they might groan at some
of the dramatic contrivances and rustic humor, “The Basket”
might suffice for your purposes. Its static style and funereal
pacing might even put the tykes into a blissful sleep (and you,