What’s more valuable: phenomenal talent or satisfactory mental health? That’s the heavy question at the light heart of The Scout (Twentieth Century Fox, PG-13), an intermittently comic baseball movie that has little to do with baseball and a lot to do with the wonders of psychotherapy as fantasized by Hollywood screenwriters — who, I don’t doubt, are no strangers to the 50-minute hour. Albert Brooks plays title character Al Percolo, a middle-aged loner on the Yankees payroll who, on a scouting trip through dusty Mexican villages, discovers phenom Steve Nebraska (Brendan Fraser), an all-American boy who has made a carefree expatriate life for himself. Percolo brings the young man home with him to New York. There, Nebraska signs the kind of spectacular contract that might cause team owners to demand salary caps and thus The Scout starts off as a peppy jab at everything out of whack about the baseball business.
Nebraska is a brilliant player, but he’s also a desperately fragile guy who has learned how to block out his emotional problems by concentrating on nothing but the ball; off the field, he displays such inappropriate, childlike behavior that the back office demands a clean bill of psychiatric health. So Percolo takes Nebraska to a shrink — one H. Aaron, hardy-har, played with uninflected earnestness by the usually subtle Dianne Wiest. Whereupon this intriguing question — Is emotional health worth it if healing threatens performance? — goes wobbly, like a pitcher with a tired arm. And comedy takes a dive into the weedy outfields of Freudian transference as Percolo and Nebraska work out their father-son issues.
In the midst of the male bonding — to a script by Brooks (—Defending Your Life), Andrew Bergman (—The Freshman), and frequent Brooks collaborator Monica Johnson, directed by Michael Ritchie (he did the terrific The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom for HBO) — Fraser is swell. He’s big and loose and unself-conscious as he alternately acts up and whimpers. There’s glee in his performance. And there’s a nice, believable trust thing going on between him and his costar, who plays Percolo with the classic Brooksian, tamped-down comic melancholy that lifts the spirits of neurotic moviegoers everywhere. But good chemistry between this likable duo is not enough. At the end of the game, The Scout is too much about breaking free from the strictures of pleasing Daddy and not enough about hitting one out of the park. B-