Based on a true story, Paul Rudd WWII thriller never quite thrills

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In "The Catcher Was a Spy," Paul Rudd is Moe Berg, a professional baseball player turned U.S. spy enlisted by the government to stop Germany's construction of an atomic bomb in World War II. 

If it wasn't a true story, it would be ridiculous. But the problem with Ben Lewin's film isn't the plausibility of the storyline, it's the execution of the plot, which comes off like a stiff noir rather than a crackling thriller. 

And Rudd, forever a boy scout, may not be the man to play Berg, an expert at hiding secrets and only showing what he wanted to be seen. Berg, who held degrees from Princeton and Columbia and spoke 10 languages (only seven of them fluently, he would crack), also led a double life, hiding his sexuality from his girlfriend (played by Sienna Miller) and keeping to himself. He was a perfect candidate for a spy. But if there's darkness in him, Rudd doesn't show it, only letting the veneer of Berg shine through.

Following a baseball career where he hung on past his prime, Berg struggles for his next act. He finally approaches the government after taking some surveillance footage while on a baseball trip to Japan, which he offers to William J. Donovan (Jeff Daniels). Donovan is impressed. "Welcome to the OSS," he tells Berg. 

A fine group of actors, including Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti and Mark Strong, round out the cast, but as it goes on, "The Catcher Was a Spy" feels stage-y rather than real. A late-film meeting between Berg and German physicist Werner Heisenberg (Strong), one of the A-bomb's supposed architects, falls into a cliched (and overly telegraphed) game of chess. "The Catcher Was a Spy" is an engaging stranger-than-fiction tale that stumbles on its way to the screen.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama 

'The Catcher Was a Spy'

GRADE: C+

Rated R for some sexuality, violence and language

Running time: 98 minutes

 

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