August 23, 2010 / 4:34 AM / 8 years ago

Steve Zahn shines in low-key gem "Calvin Marshall"

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The sort of quirky little gem inevitably destined for video store shelves, “Calvin Marshall” represents a career-best performance by Steve Zahn as an alcoholic junior college baseball coach bitter over his failure to make it into the major leagues.

Cast member Steve Zahn attends the premiere of the film "A Perfect Getaway" in Los Angeles August 5, 2009. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Although its charms are undeniably minor, Gary Lundgren’s debut effort will strike a chord with anyone who feels that they have failed to live up to their potential.

The titular central character (Alex Frost) is a player on Coach Little’s (Zahn) team, the Bayford Bisons. Although Calvin loves the game to death and demonstrates it with a relentless determination, the sad fact is that he isn’t very good. The coach, sympathetic to the young man’s spirit, fuels his self-delusion by technically keeping him on the team but keeping him forever on the sideline.

Calvin does have other talents, however, including serving as a sportscaster for the college’s radio station. It’s in that capacity that he falls for the charms of star volleyball player, Tori (Michelle Lombardo), with whom he begins a tentative relationship. The gorgeous Tori, who appreciates Calvin’s gentle nature, initially is unaware of his lack of athletic prowess. But the relationship falls apart when the coach, making the moves on her himself, viciously reveals the truth.

Lundgren’s screenplay beautifully juggles the story’s alternately comic and poignant elements and renders all three main characters with surprising depth. The initially wimpy Calvin displays formidable inner strength; star athlete Tori is revealed to be caring for her terminally ill mother (Terri McMahon); and Coach Little turns out to be a complex figure whose innate decency is marred by his self-destructive tendencies.

Besides Zahn’s terrific turn, Frost, in a role that is miles away from his chilling performance as a teen on a shooting spree in Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” delivers a charming, low-key performance that recalls the young John Cusack.

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