IN 1947, America's two most beloved pastimes, baseball and racism, came to a contentious head when Jackie Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Despite the noblest of intentions, 42 addresses this momentous occurrence with all the clumsy tact an overly glossy Hollywood sports film can possibly muster, heavy-handedly topping The Blind Side at the game of feel-good race relations and athletics.
Meet Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, gnawing at the scenery like a cornered animal), cantankerous president of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the mastermind behind baseball's long overdue, yet still controversial, player integration. His muse, young Negro League star Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), is groomed to not fight back over the initial backlash—instead, he must endure and prove his worth on the field. (Robinson did just that over the course of his stellar, decade-long major league baseball career, little of which is addressed in 42.)
Void of depth, 42 offers an infallible protagonist who is forced to brush past a seemingly endless parade of hollow racists of all professions—bellhop, gas attendant, reporter, umpire, sheriff, flight attendant, and a handful of rednecks in baseball uniforms—in his effort to lead the Dodgers to a pennant.
Stripped barren of all emotional complexities, Robinson is guided by his saintly wife Rachel (Nicole Beharie), wizened African American reporter Wendell Smith (Andre Holland), and a series of aw-shucks-say-it-ain't-so kids who clumsily hammer home director Brian Helgeland's message that Robinson was the truest of American heroes (expectedly, there is nary a mention of Paul Robeson).
Amid the film's bumbling attempts to illustrate the perils of prejudice is a woefully inappropriate scene where Robinson and teammate Ralph Branca (Hamish Linklater) share a "no homo" chuckle over an invite to shower together after a game—homophobia cures racism, evidently. This scene feels especially myopic considering that baseball, along with most professional sports, has yet to integrate an openly gay player. Even when preaching from the pulpit, 42 shows that we have a long way to go.