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Pitt’s ‘Moneyball’ Rattles Baseball; De Niro’s Assassins: Film

Brad Pitt in "Money Ball," directed by Bennett Miller. Source: Columbia Pictures via Bloomberg

“Moneyball” took seven years to make it to the big screen. Now we know why.

Turning Michael Lewis’s best-seller about baseball economics into a Hollywood film was a huge challenge -- the equivalent of hitting a 95 mph fastball. Payroll maneuvers and complex statistics aren’t easily translated into gripping drama.

Brad Pitt, director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (who was brought in to rewrite the script) haven’t struck out with their underdog sports story but they haven’t hit a home run, either. In baseball lingo, it’s a line-drive single.

The film focuses on Billy Beane, the Oakland Athletics general manager whose innovative player-evaluation system helped the cash-strapped team become a championship contender.

You can only spend so much time explaining the stat-based formula that Beane (winningly played by Pitt) and his wonkish Yale-educated assistant Peter Brand (a miscast Jonah Hill) use to find bargain players overlooked by other teams.

So what we get are frequent flashbacks to Beane’s playing career, from his days as a high-school hotshot picked in the first round of the 1980 draft to his last major-league game in 1989. Besides Beane and Brand (a composite character), the film’s other major figure is Athletics manager Art Howe (a gruff Philip Seymour Hoffman), a baseball traditionalist infuriated by the young numbers crunchers.

As for action, it’s mostly confined to a montage of real clips from Oakland’s record 20-game winning streak in 2002.

That’s the most exciting part of the film, which tells me that the story might have been better served by a documentary.

“Moneyball,” from Columbia Pictures, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: **1/2

‘Killer Elite’

I lost track of the body count in “Killer Elite” about the same time I stopped caring who lived or died. Since almost everyone in this hyper action/spy film is a hired assassin, it’s hard to work up much sympathy when they bite the dust.

Based on “The Feather Men,” a novel by British adventurer Ranulph Fiennes, the film stars Jason Statham, Clive Owen, Robert De Niro and an amazing variety of killing methods. Victims are dispatched by gunfire, choking, knife, hammer, broken paintbrush and a remote-controlled truck. I kept waiting for a death ray.

The story pits one group of former British special-ops agents against another. The first team killed three sons of an Omani sheik during a secret 1970s war. Now the dying sheik hires mercenaries to execute his sons’ killers for a $6 million bounty.

Puzzled De Niro

Director Gary McKendry’s first feature globetrots from London and Paris to the Middle East and Australia, where Danny (Statham) is living a quiet life with his girlfriend before being lured out of retirement to rescue his mentor Hunter (De Niro) from the sheik’s clutches.

Statham, a veteran action star, is very comfortable beating his foes to a bloody pulp. But Owen’s curly hair and swarthy mustache makes him look like a 1970s porn star and De Niro, with his scraggly beard, appears puzzled as to how he ended up in this movie.

“Killer Elite,” from Open Road Films, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: *1/2

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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