It’s nice that Joe Mazzello, who has a long list of screen credits as an actor, chose to write and direct this ensemble baseball comedy, as well as taking a role in it, in order to celebrate the skill of his brother John, a college star (at Marist College) who was never drafted by a major league team. Unfortunately, “Undrafted” turns out to be a cinematic foul ball.
The setting is a local league game that will determine which of two teams will go on to a sectional championship. One is the Bulldogs, and the other the one we’re rooting for—the D-Backs (short for Diamond Backs, but one empire mispronounces it as d-bags), a ragtag, bickering group of good guys whose player-coach Ty (Duke Davis Roberts) explodes when the Bulldogs show up featuring a raft of new players with impressive credits on their resumes.
That’s not the only reason for his temper tantrum. The team’s best player, John “Max” Mazzeti (Aaron Tveit), has been skipped over during the major league draft that just ended, despite his stellar college career. When he arrives, driven to the field by their father Joe (Jim Belushi), all the teammates commiserate over the disappointment.
As the game proceeds, the other players each get their moments to shine, among them Barone (Chace Crawford), the hotshot hitter who doesn’t want to slide and get his uniform dirty; Dells (Tyler Hoechlin, who recently appeared in another baseball-themed move, “Everybody Wants Some!!”), the pitcher with a tendency to choke; Fotch (Philip Winchester), the older, injured guy who’s really past his prime; Garvey (Ryan Pinkston), the pint-sized catcher; and hot-tempered outfielder Pat Murray (Joseph Mazello), (Other, less differentiated, players include Jay Hayden, Michael Fishman, Matt Barr, Mandy Montana, Matt Bush, Toby Hemingway and David del Rio).
Incredibly, the D-Backs take a one-run lead but that evaporates, and a melee that erupts when one of the sneering Bulldogs injures Garvey threatens to end the game with our heroes at a deficit. When the contest resumes with the Backs down to nine players (one hurt, two arrested), it’s the last chance for them—particularly Maz, who takes over as coach and will take up his bat against a star relief pitcher at a crucial moment—to show their mettle.
Of course, it’s as things come down to the crunch that the script goes deep into purple territory, along with the action (unlikely players get hits, and Fotch finds a way to get on base even though he can’t move his right arm). One hears, more than more, the old cliché, “This is your time.” But even earlier, at almost exactly the half-way point in the movie, a furious player is given a long declamation about the unfairness of life and how underdogs like them always get the short end of the stick. Mazello assigns this central message to Murray, whom he just happens to be playing.
“Undrafted” belongs to the rough-and-ready school of filmmaking, which means that the physical production is on a very meager level. But it should be remarked that in addition to Mazello as one of the producers, Crawford is listed as an executive producer along with Tony Romo, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback who’s also Crawford’s brother-in-law. Whatever the case, despite the best efforts of a game cast, the movie definitely comes across as a bush-league effort.
A cinematic footnote: The brothers Mazzello both appeared in Mark Steven Johnson’s “Simon Birch” back in 1998. Joseph played Simon’s childhood pal Joe, while John appeared as Simon, the son of the grown-up Joe played by Jim Carrey. John also appeared in a few other films prior to 1998, but “Birch” appears to have been his last, and a caption at the end tells us he’s now a high-school coach.