Jackie Robinson is an American legend: The first black player to break Major League Baseball’s color barrier, he shouldered the hopes of a generation, weathering a flurry of abuse to open the gates for future players to partake in America’s pastime. Brian Helgeland’s Robinson biopic, 42
, will also secure a spot in history: history class. This is the kind of shoddy biopic that teachers will keep in the bullpen for sick days, so some hung-over substitute can put it on for a “lesson.” Yet this is neither a good sports movie nor a worthwhile historical film. If one were to piece together Robinson’s story based solely on 42
, it would read as follows: Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) was a nice, college-educated man who loved his wife. One day, Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) called him up to the bigs. Most white players didn’t like him, spending so much time snarling racial slurs they didn’t realize he was both nice and good at baseball. Then everyone realized he was good at baseball. Then they were friends. Despite Boseman’s best efforts, Robinson’s character is criminally underdeveloped, and Ford is reduced to the kind of white-person-solves-racism role that scored Sandra Bullock an Oscar. Even the baseball sequences are lazily constructed. Hell, Remember the Titans
is a more complex, moving portrait of racial tensions in sports. 42
is a hackneyed, cookie-cutter film that manages to tell us absolutely nothing about a turning point in American history. But on the bright side, at least it’ll provide endless naps for future history students when their teachers are sick.