July 28, 2022 The Royal (Movie Review)
Released by Samuel Goldwyn Films digitally and for a limitedly theatrically run on July 15th, 2022 comes The Royal.
Despite the name, the film has nothing to do with 2006’s The Queen, or the prequel Netflix series The Crown. This Royal, directed by Marcel Sarmiento (The ABCs of Death 2012, Totem 2017) is all about Willie Mays Aikens, a baseball player for the Kansas City Royals. A solid MLB first baseman for eight seasons, he was also the first player to hit two home runs in two different World Series’ games. Unfortunately, he fell into drugs, got snared by the cops, and sentenced to twenty plus years for selling crack. Following his release on parole, Aikens tries to pull himself back together, rebuild the burnt bridges with his family and friends, then come to terms with himself and his love for baseball. So, is the movie any good?
First impressions are solid enough, as Aikens adjusts to life as an ex-con, with a lawyer (Elisabeth Röhm: Angel series, American Hustle 2013), parole meetings, and a mundane job to keep up to his terms. Sometimes Kansas City offers Aikens a trip down memory lane. Other times, old friends do it, like the cop who takes him to his parole meetings (Michael Beach: Aquaman 2018, If Beale Street Could Talk 2018), or the pastor who shows him the batting center that leads to his big break (Michael Beasley: Bloodline series, Eastbound & Down 2013).
The film is the debut outing for Screenwriter Gregory W. Jordan, who wrote the book the film was based on. He does an okay job putting everything together into a dramatic package, though the exposition is woven more naturally into the plot in the first half of the film than the second. By the latter half, the film feels a little more like a smarter Lifetime TV movie, with dramatic turns just planted into the script instead of growing from the plot.
Unlike a Lifetime film, the cast deliver their lines solidly enough. Joseph appears in every scene in the film from beginning to end, so he has to carry the film no matter how great the supporting cast is. He does it admirably enough, doing particularly well opposite Olivia Holguín (Luisa and Ann’s First Fight 2019, Kleen 2019) as his daughter Camila. Their scenes are perhaps the most genuine ones in the film, as their characters gradually warm up to each other.
Other characters act as a relay for each other. Röhm’s lawyer is great, though she fades out of the picture once the family turn up. Then, once Aikens’ wife (Andrea Navedo: Remember Me 2010, Bright 2017) steps out, his old baseball buddy George Brett (Nic Bishop: Snowfall series, Truth Be Told series) steps up as his next path to the top. Beasley is great too, though he essentially does two narratively convenient cameos.
The Royal is a solid film, with some solid direction that makes even the dowdiest parts of Kansas City (and Augusta, GA) look nice to venture through. There are some nice performances, particularly from Joseph and Holguín, and the fundamental story is touching enough as the baseball great brought low climbs back up again. If only it could have flowed better. The sudden dramatic turns and rises give the film an uneven pace that make it a noticeably clunky experience. With more considerate writing, or sharper editing if there was something left on the cutting room floor, The Royal could have been a home run in itself. Instead, it reaches second base. Or, put simply, Cryptic Rock gives this film 3 out of 5 stars.