Minor-league baseball may be the only sport where there’s no way for a fan to lose. When the weather’s warm and the crowd is genial, the quality of the game can feel almost superfluous. Such are the low-risk rewards of “Bottom of the 9th,” a baseball drama that finds the amiable Joe Manganiello turning his life around as a player on the fictitious Staten Island Empires.
Manganiello plays Sonny Stano, a formidable hitter whose youth was spent in prison after he accidentally killed a man in a street fight. Wracked with guilt and insecurity 20 years later, Sonny is released from prison and plans to re-enter society quietly, leaving baseball behind. But Sonny can’t help attracting attention. His former girlfriend, Angela (a somber Sofía Vergara), notices him at the supermarket, rekindling their romance. Soon, a veteran minor-league coach (Michael Rispoli) seeks Sonny out, offering him a job with the Empires — first as an assistant, then as a player. With a community supporting him in the stands and the dugout, Sonny begins the process of nursing his bruised confidence back to fighting form.
For this character drama, the director, Raymond De Felitta, trains his camera on Manganiello, as if allowing the actor to prove himself as a star simultaneous with Sonny’s efforts to prove himself as a person. Manganiello is sometimes awkward — he doesn’t always seem to know how to make his colossal body move gracefully. (When his arms sway, they swing across what seems like half the frame.) But he is also never anything less than earnest, and with the stakes set appropriately low, the result is pleasing — a stadium snow cone, palatable despite being sweetened with corn syrup.
Bottom of the 9th
Rated R. Language, suggested drug use and brief scenes of violence. Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes.
Bottom of the 9th
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