Review: ‘Running the Bases,’ starring Brett Varvel, Gigi Orsillo, Todd Terry and Cameron Arnett

September 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Brett Varvel in “Running the Bases” (Photo courtesy of UP2U Films)

“Running the Bases” (2022)

Directed by Marty Roberts and Jimmy Womble

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas and briefly in Arkansas, in the early 2020s and the early 2000s, the faith-based dramatic film “Running the Bases” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and a few Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After experiencing a tragedy that derailed his baseball dreams when he was a teenager, an Arkansas man in his late 30s becomes a coach of a high school baseball team in Texas, where he comes up against opposition to his religious ritual of running the bases. 

Culture Audience: “Running the Bases” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching faith-based movies or sports movies with a good story and a meaningful message about courage and standing up for one’s beliefs.

Todd Terry in “Running the Bases” (Photo courtesy of UP2U Films)

As a faith-based drama, “Running the Bases” has the expected religious preaching. Some of the movie’s supporting performances are subpar. However, this good-natured movie is saved by an appealing lead performance by Brett Varvel and some laugh-out-loud comedy. “Running the Bases” should be avoided by anyone who gets turned off by any religious dogma in a movie. But for anyone looking for family-friendly entertainment and can tolerate an unapolegetically Christian-leaning movie, “Running the Bases” is a viable option since it’s slightly better than the average low-budget, faith-based film.

Written and directed by Marty Roberts and Jimmy Womble, “Running the Bases” begins with baseball coach Luke Brooks (played by Varvel) on a baseball field during a pivotal moment in his life. Viewers later find out that Luke is a coach for a high school team called the Parkwood Lions. Luke says in a voiceover, “The path that led me to this moment is not what I had planned for my life.”

Luke mentions God’s purpose and what God the Creator had planned for him. Because the movie shows its religious tone within the first few minutes, viewers will know what to expect for the rest of the movie. The Bible gets mentioned quite a bit and becomes a catalyst for one of the major conflicts in the story.

“Running the Bases” then flashes back to 20 years earlier, when Luke was about 17 or 18 years old and in his last year of his school. The teenage Luke (played by Raphael Ruggero) and his fraternal twin brother Josh (played by Brendan Carl Reimer) are baseball fanatics whose dream is to play professional baseball. Luke and Josh, who are both on their school’s baseball team, live with their parents on a farm in Harrison, Arkansas. Josh is the “alpha male” of this brotherly duo, since he usually takes the lead in whatever he and Luke do.

Both brothers are fairly obedient and respectful. Their idea of rebelling is sneaking off to go fishing with their best friend Jessica (played by Dakota Bruton) instead of doing chores at the farm. The brothers’ mother, Diane Brooks (played by Anita Cordell), is very outspoken in her desire for Luke and Josh to stay in the family farming business.

Diane isn’t very happy that Luke and Josh have applied to a university that can offer full scholarships and where the twins hope to be recruited by a Major League Baseball team. “There’s more to life than baseball,” Diane says to Luke and Robert, much to the brothers’ dismay. Diane’s husband Matt Brooks (played by Stephen Caudill) is more neutral about this matter, but Matt wants the twins to help out with farming duties as much as they can, as long as they’re living there.

One day during a school baseball game, Josh collapses on the field and suddenly dies. The medical diagnosis was that he had an undetected heart defect. It’s also discovered that Luke was born with the same heart condition. He’s told by the attending physician Dr. Spurlock (played by Verda Davenport) that Luke cannot play baseball or do any activity that would put a lot of strain on his heart.

Needless to say, the Brooks family is devastated by losing Josh. There’s a very cringeworthy scene with some bad acting when a grief-stricken Luke is seen by himself wailing and shouting to God: “I’ve got nothing left. No brother, No baseball. Nothing!” he adds, “Can you hear me? Can you even see me?”

Shortly after Josh’s funeral, Luke gets a letter in the mail informing him that he’s been accepted to his top-choice college: Evangel University (where Josh also planned to attend) with a full scholarship. Luke tells his mother Diane that he has no desire to go.

But she has a change of heart about Luke going away to college. She tells him it’s what Josh would have wanted. Diane says tearfully to Luke, “He ran his race. He’d want you to finish yours.” Luke agrees to go to Evangel University. Sometime during Luke’s university years, Luke and Jessica get married.

“Running the Bases” then fast-forwards 20 years later. Luke is still in Harrison and working as a successful baseball coach for the same high school that he and Josh attended. Luke and Jessica (who is a homemaker) are happily married and the parents to a teenage son named Joshua (played by Bridger Trent) also known as Josh, who was named after Luke’s dead twin brother. Luke’s son Josh is about 16 or 17 years old and is in his junior year in high school.

Luke is such a great baseball coach, he has won nine state championships with the teams he’s coached. And so, it should come as no surprise that he gets a job offer from another high school. The person who recruits him is Michael Jamison (played by Todd Terry), the school district superintendent of Parkwood High School, which is in an unnamed city in Texas. Michael offers Luke a salary that is double of Luke’s current salary.

Luke wants to take the job, but Jessica (played by Gigi Orsillo) and Josh don’t want to move out of the only hometown they’ve ever known. In the end, Luke thinks the job offer is God’s way of saying that Luke needs to take on new challenges, so he takes the job. It’s also hinted that Luke still has painful memories of Josh dying on the baseball field where he has to coach his team, so he thinks moving to a new place might help ease those bad memories.

Relocating to Texas has some advantages and disadvantages. Luke and Jessica now live in a much bigger city and are delighted that they can now enjoy some conveniences, such as food delivered to their home, which is a service they didn’t have in rural Harrison. However, Luke is in for a shock when he finds out that the baseball team he’s coaching is so underfunded, they don’t have their own practice field, and they have to use a local park to practice.

Luke also gets mixed reactions as a newcomer to this school. Booster club president Ted Graham (played by Garry Nation) and assistant coach Cage Tyson (played by Stephen C. Lewis) are among those who welcome Luke without hesitation. Alex Kinney (played by Van Stewman Jr.) is an elderly man who’s been a longtime baseball coach for the school, so he’s not as friendly to Luke, because he knows that Luke is essentially replacing him.

Charlie Rogers (played by Robert Thomason), the school’s principal, is cautiously optimistic about Luke. Meanwhile, hard-driving superintendent Michael lets Luke know on several occasions that he expects Luke to turn the baseball team into state champions and do whatever it takes to win. This “win at all costs” attitude is not the same attitude that Luke has, so it should come as no surprise that Michael and Luke end up clashing with each other.

Meanwhile, Luke’s son Josh is on the baseball team but Luke tells everyone that no one on the team, including Josh, will get any unfair special treatment from Luke. Michael’s son Ryan (played by Justin Sterner), who’s kind of a know-it-all brat, is also on the team, and he tests Luke’s authority on the very first day that Luke becomes the team’s coach. However, Luke lets it be known immediately that Ryan won’t get any special privileges just because Ryan’s father is the school district superintendent.

Also on the team is an angry troublemaker named Cody Garrison (played by David Michael Reardon), who becomes an enemy of Josh for various reasons. One of them is because of a love triangle. Josh, who’s a new student at this school, has immediately gotten romantic attention from a schoolmate named Danielle (played by Amber Sweet Sterner), and Cody is jealous because Cody has wanted to date Danielle for quite some time, but she’s rejected Cody.

Ryan’s two best friends are also on the baseball team: easygoing Jerry Wilhite (played by Stephon Gryskiewicz) and energetic Cameron Scott (played by Will Oliver), who are essentially sidekick characters. In one of thee team’s first practices with Luke, the coach notices that school custodian Samuel “Sam” Parker (played by Cameron Arnett) is an enthusiastic watcher of these practices, so Coach Brooks immediately makes Sam an assistant coach for the team. Sam is so delighted and appreciative, he becomes a loyal ally to Luke when things get tough for Luke.

Luke is a coach who leads by using respect, not fear. He tells the team that winning is a goal, but it’s not the most important thing in the game. He says repeatedly that he thinks it’s much more important that they do their best, regardless of the outcome. He also firmly believes in this principle, which he imparts to the team: “Greatness isn’t defined by winning. It’s how you conduct yourself on and off the field.”

All of this might sound very corny, but the movie shows that Luke comes up against obstacles where he is tested and has to show if he practices what he preaches. Ever since his brother Josh died, Luke made it a ritual to run around the bases of a baseball field during practice and pray out loud while running. It’s Luke’s way of honoring God and paying respect to Josh.

However, superintnedent Mike is a staunch atheist, and he thinks that Luke’s religious ritual (which Luke does not force anyone else to do) has no right to be part of the team’s practices or games. And it just so happens that there’s a city ordinance that prohibits city-owned land for being used for religious purposes. Mike demands that Luke stop praying out loud during this “running the bases” ritual, but Luke refuses.

It leads to a feud between Luke and Mike. This feud escalates when Mike finds out that Ryan is showing interest in becoming a Christian, after Ryan spent some time with Jerry and Cameron for a barbecue and casual overnight visit in the Brooks home. And the next thing you know, Ryan is getting baptized. Mike gets even angrier when he discovers that Luke gave Mike a Bible as a gift.

Mike thinks religion is a “fantasy,” and he demands that Ryan have no part of it. One of the reasons why Mike is so against religion is because his wife/Ryan’s mother died of cancer when Ryan was 6 years old. A statement that Mike makes in the movie implies that Mike was probably religious in his past, but he turned against God and religion because of his wife’s death.

Even though Ryan’s home life is unhappy, he is the goofy comic relief in the story. The movie’s funniest moments have to do with a pink Love Rope that Luke uses to discipline and embarrass team members who are temporarily suspended for violating any of the team rules or disrupting the team. The rule-breaking team members have the Love Rope tied to each other and are forced to wear it for a specified period of time while watching the team practice from the sidelines. This Love Rope results in some amusing slapstick comedy in “Running the Bases.”

Even though the movie has some intentionally funny moments, “Running the Bases” is very much a drama. There are some very hokey moments in “Running the Bases,” but there’s nothing in this movie that’s entirely unrealistic. There are no “it’s a miracle” moments, but some viewers might roll their eyes in cynicism at how some conflicts are resolved.

A lot of credit should be given to Varvel in making Luke a believable person and delivering the sometimes very corny dialogue in a way that looks fairly natural. Luke is not perfect (he can be stubborn to a fault), but he can be relatable in some way to most viewers. Arsillo is also quite good in her role as the Jessica, but “Running the Bases” falls into the same stereotypes of a lot of faith-based movies that make female characters with the most significant roles as secondary to the male characters—usually as a love interest or family member of the male protagonist.

And although “Running the Bases” admirably has racial diversity in casting several African Americans in significant roles, there could have had more realistic Latin representation in a movie that’s supposed to mostly take place in Texas, a state that has a very large Latin population. And speaking of casting, unfortunately, some of the movie’s co-stars have awkward and stiff delivery of their lines. But because they are supporting characters, this substandard acting doesn’t ruin the movie.

“Running the Bases” doesn’t try to be anything else but what it is: an earnest and entertaining faith-based film. At least the movie is very up front about its religious elements and mostly succeeds with its intentions. “Running the Bases” also gives ample time to an atheist perspective by not condemning it but by showing the debate over religious freedoms and how they can or cannot be protected secular laws. Stick around for the movie’s end credits for an amusing scene that solves a big mystery that was presented in the story.

UP2U Films will release “Running the Bases” in U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Family Camp,’ starring Tommy Woodard, Eddie James, Leigh-Allyn Baker and Gigi Orsillo

May 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Gigi Orsillo, Eddie James, Tommy Woodard and Leigh-Allyn Baker in “Family Camp” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

“Family Camp”

Directed by Brian Cates

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of Oklahoma, the comedy film “Family Camp” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two families, who have to share a yurt during a Christian vacation camp, become fierce rivals in the camp’s physical competitions, and then the family patriarchs both get lost in the woods together.

Culture Audience: “Family Camp” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in faith-based comedies that have no creative imagination and a lot of predictability.

Tommy Woodard and Eddie James in “Family Camp” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

“Family Camp” is a dreadfully unfunny ripoff of other comedies about families at a vacation campground. The kid characters are nice, but their annoying parents unfortunately get most of the screen time. “Family Camp” is a faith-based movie, but people looking for entertaining comedic talent in this repetitive and predictable tripe will have their faith and their patience thoroughly tested and then completely obliterated, if there’s any hope that the movie will get better as it goes along. “Family Camp” is formulaic junk that goes from bad to worse.

Directed by Brian Cates (who co-wrote the abysmal “Family Camp” screenplay with Rene Gutteridge), “Family Camp” is essentially a thinly veiled vanity project for the Skit Guys, the comedy duo consisting of longtime friends Tommy Woodard and Eddie James. If “Family Camp” is the first time that people will be introduced to the Skit Guys, then it will put a lot of viewers off from seeing anything else that the Skit Guys have to offer. The movie is supposed to be about two families, but the last third of the movie is pretty much about the feuding characters played by Woodard and James getting lost in the woods together.

“Family Camp” (which is set in Oklahoma) is so simple-minded, at least it’s very easy to follow the plot. Too bad the plot is so stupid, your brain will feel numb from the experience of watching all the corny, awful and boring scenarios that the “Family Camp” filmmakers are trying to pass off as comedy. Most of the movie’s adult characters are whiny, fake or aggressively obnoxious.

The beginning of “Family Camp” shows married couple Tommy Ackerman (played by Woodard) and Grace Ackerman (played by Leigh-Allyn Baker) in church with their two children: Hannah Ackerman (played by Cece Kelly) and Henry Ackerman (played by Jacob M. Wade). Hannah is 16 years old, while Henry is about 11 or 12 years old. Grace is annoyed with Tommy because he showed up late for this church service.

But that’s not the only thing she’s irritated about when it comes to Tommy. Grace thinks that Tommy, who works as a senior investment strategist, is too much of a workaholic who’s been neglecting his family. When the church’s Pastor Dave (played by Mark Christopher Lawrence) announces to the congregation some details about an annual Christian family retreat at a place called Camp Katokwah, Grace tells Tommy that if he wants to make up for all the time that he missed with his family, their family needs to go on this week-long camping trip. (Camp Katokwah is a fictional name. “Family Camp” was actually filmed at Central Oklahoma Camp in Guthrie, Oklahoma.)

Tommy is very resistant to taking this trip, because it’s coming at a time when he’s being considered for a job promotion. Tommy is in a bitter rivalry for the promotion with a cutthroat co-worker named Bramburger (played by Brandon Potter), who doesn’t hesitate to lie, cheat and steal to get what he wants. Tommy and Bramburger have been trying to get the same client, named Mr. Kapoor (played by Mathew Chacko), who is a wealthy businessman.

Tommy thinks that going on this camping trip will put him at a distinct disadvantage to get the promotion. The movie has some time-wasting scenes where Tommy uses his phone to keep track of Bramburger and his sneaky ways of trying to win over Mr. Kapoor. One of Bramburger’s backstabbing tactics includes impersonating Tommy in an in-person interview with Mr. Kapoor. It makes no sense for Bramburger to pretend to be Tommy in this interview, since Bramburger wants to be the one to get the credit for signing Mr. Kapoor as a client. It’s an example of how poorly written the “Family Camp” screenplay is.

Even though Tommy doesn’t want to spend time away from his job, there would be no “Family Camp” movie if Tommy didn’t agree to go on this trip. He does so reluctantly, and he immediately regrets it when the Ackerman family gets to Camp Katokwah and finds out that the camp never got the Ackermans’ last installment of the required payment. All of the cabins on the campground are sold out, so the Ackermans have to share a yurt with another family. It’s a yurt with no WiFi service and no air conditioning.

The other family sharing the yurt also consists of a married couple with two underage children. Eddie Sanders (played by James) and his wife Victoria Sanders (played by Gigi Orsillo) have fraternal twins: son Ed Sanders Jr. (played by Elias Kemuel) and daughter Barb (played by Keslee Grace Blalock), who are both about 11 or 12 years old. Eddie is a loudmouth chiropractor, who always wants people to think he’s the biggest “alpha male,” but he’s really an insecure buffoon with terrible social skills. Victoria is a stereotypical younger “trophy wife” who’s obsessed with the family’s image on social media.

One of the first things that Eddie tells Tommy is that Eddie and his family are the reigning champs of Camp Katokwah’s physical challenge tournament, where the winning family gets a trophy. The tournament consists of families competing in challenges such as obstacle courses, archery, pie-eating contests with hands tied behind their backs, and body-slamming competitions where people are encased in giant plastic bubbles. As soon as Eddie brags about his champion status, you know that a lot of this movie is going to be about the Ackerman family versus the Sanders family in these challenges.

And sure enough, the movie has several scenes where these two families face off against each other in these challenges. Grace and Victoria become competitive with each other. But their rivalry is nothing compared to how Eddie and Tommy take the competition to a super-personal level, as if they have to prove their manhood, and as if their reputations as husbands and fathers depend on winning this superficial trophy. To make matters worse, since the Sanders family and Ackerman family have to share living quarters at this camp, they can’t really get away from each other, so any hard feelings about winning or losing start to fester and boil over.

The movie has some not-very-funny jokes about the Sanders family being strict vegans, and the Ackerman parents ridiculing the Sanders family’s eating habits. And there’s a silly scene in the camp cafeteria where Tommy chokes on his food, but he’s saved when Eddie does the Heimlich maneuver on Tommy. Eddie gets a standing ovation from the cafeteria crowd because of it. The praise just fuels Eddie’s already overblown ego.

Eddie is by far the most repulsive of these four parents. He often grabs people to give them uncomfortable chiropractic crunches without their consent. When Eddie notices that Henry is not very athletic and has a tendency to become afraid, Eddie taunts Tommy over it and says that Henry will probably grow up to be a socially inept hoarder. It’s a cruel thing to say about a harmless kid. Eddie also plays the harmonica when no one really wants to hear him play. And that means he’s a blowhard in more ways than one.

Meanwhile, Victoria and Grace, who seem to be homemakers since they don’t talk about having their own careers, end up confessing to each other some of the problems they’re experiencing in their respective marriages. In other words, it all comes back to the narrative really being about Eddie and Tommy. “Family Camp” makes a half-hearted attempt hinting that Victoria might want some independence from her husband, but the movie never details what she wants to do with her life that would make her more independent.

The kids are sidelined so that the story can mainly be about the egotistical adults in the Ackerman and Sanders families. Hannah has a brief and inconsequential storyline of meeting a teenage guy named Corbin (played by Clayton Royal Johnson) at the camp and getting a mild crush on him. Corbin charms Hannah by playing acoustic guitar and telling her that she’s the prettiest girl at Camp Katokwah.

Later, when Corbin tries to kiss her, Hannah has to show him she’s “not that kind of girl.” And when he immediately loses interest in her, Hannah gets revenge by pushing Corbin over a bridge walkway and into a lake. It’s not spoiler information, because this push is in the movie’s trailer.

The movie’s Camp Katokwah employees are very forgettable. The leader of Camp Katokwah is named Joel (played by Robert Amaya), who isn’t shown doing much except emcee the camp’s competitions and entertainment. The camp’s chief cook is named—get ready to groan—Cookie (played by Heather Land), who doesn’t do much but stand around in the kitchen and share emcee duties with Joel.

The last third of “Family Camp” reaches putrid levels of stupidity when Eddie and Tommy get lost in the woods together, which means more bickering from these two bozos. There’s no mention of why they didn’t have their cell phones with them when they went into the woods. Henry gets lost in the woods too, but an underage child who goes missing is not as important in this movie as giving a lot of screen time to two men acting like insufferable brats. It gets tiresome very quickly.

And there are two more adult dolts in the woods: loathsome and cretinous reality TV stars who are named Slim (played by Myke Holmes) and Beef (played by Weston Vrooman), whose main claim to fame is being on a TV series showing Beef and Slim looking for the legendary creature Big Foot. Viewers can easily predict what will happen when Slim and Beef encounter Eddie and Tommy, especially when Eddie always seems to find a way to mouth off and get people angry.

In addition to the poorly written screenplay, “Family Camp” (which is Cates’ feature-film directorial debut) has terrible editing and substandard visual effects. One of the worst parts of the movie is a very fake-looking beaver in the woods. This beaver has human-like characteristics and mannerisms, which are supposed to make the beaver look cute and cuddly, but it just looks creepy and phony.

There’s also a scene where idiotic Eddie rips a slab of honeycomb from a tree and gets stung all over his face by a swarm of bees that were on the honeycomb. Tommy gives Eddie an emergency injection of epinephrine that Eddie just happens to have with him. Just a few minutes after this injection, Eddie’s bee stings have magically and unrealistically disappeared, and the bee stings are never mentioned again in the movie.

No one is expecting a movie like “Family Camp” to be Oscar-caliber, but a movie like this doesn’t have to constantly insult viewers’ intelligence. And even if a comedy has a mindless plot and mediocre acting, it should at least have some central characters that people will care about in a way to maintain viewer interest. “Family Camp” made the colossal mistake of having repugnant boor Eddie as the focus of the terrible jokes. He’s worse than the bees that stung him because viewers are stuck with him for the entire movie, which is polluted by the stink of lazy and low-quality filmmaking.

Roadside Attractions, K-LOVE Films and Provident Films released “Family Camp” in U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022. Lionsgate Home Entertainment will release “Family Camp” on digital and VOD on June 28, 2022.

Copyright 2017-2023 Culture Mix