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Movie review: ‘42’ is classy but tame Robinson tale

Jackie Robinson was the ideal class act to break the barrier and become the first black player in Major League Baseball. The biopic “42” is a class act, though not always an engaging one.

With an earnest performance by Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and an enjoyable turn by Harrison Ford as Brooklyn Dodgers boss Branch Rickey, “42” hits every button you expect. It riles with its re-creations of the racism to which Robinson was subjected. It uplifts with its depictions of Robinson’s restraint and fortitude. It inspires with its glimpses of support and compassion from teammates and fans.

Yet like a sleepy, low-scoring ballgame, “42” is not the jolt of energy and entertainment we wish it could be.

In 1945 Robinson was stuck in the Negro Leagues because of the whites-only code that rules the majors. But by spring 1946, Rickey, played with crusty, jowly, curmudgeonhood by Ford, has moved Robinson onto the Dodgers’ minor-league team in Montreal. As eventful as that season is — with white fans booing Robinson, opponents taunting him and Deep South police insisting he can’t play on the same field as whites — it’s only a warm-up for the ugliness that comes in 1947 after Robinson dons a Dodgers uniform and steps out of the tunnel at Ebbets Field.

As Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese, Lucas Black gets to re-enact a classic baseball moment when he responds to a jeering Cincinnati crowd by throwing an arm around Robinson’s shoulders and standing shoulder to shoulder with his teammate for the world to see.

For all the hate and hostility it depicts, “42” is a film about decent-hearted people. Hate can be infectious, but so can decency. It’s the decency you’ll take away from “42.”

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