The Catcher Was A Spy, based on the book of the same name, and directed by Ben Lewin (The Sessions) is billed as a spy thriller about Major League catcher Moe Berg (Paul Rudd), who became a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. And yes, this stranger than fiction true story has all of the trappings of a spy story, including the exploits of actual spies. Where it falls short is in the thrills.
Paul Rudd digs into his against-type role as the fiercely secretive and extraordinarily intelligent Moe Berg. On the screen, he’s sufficiently mysterious that he gets away with being rather underwritten and simply checking the boxes of what a dashing WWII man of action should be. He has a lovely lady friend he refuses to marry. As a catcher, he has the respect of the team, but no friends. As a spy, he has no experience, but lots of smarts. We watch as he undertakes a desperately important mission (one of many IRL TMoe Berg was part of), but perhaps because The Catcher Was A Spy values authenticity, that particular cinematic rush of suspense is utterly absent.
The story stands up enough to keep the viewer engaged, but not sufficiently enough to leave a lasting impression. There are, however, two worthwhile takeaways for the viewer keenly interested in good storytelling. Ben Lewin, who made a splash with The Sessions back in 2012, still has a knack for telling humanist stories, but it seems he’s on his most even footing when his voice guides the tale from the beginning. And further, Mr. Paul Rudd deserves a real look as a dramatic actor. He flexed his muscles a bit in The Fundamentals of Caring, and does so here too, but in the proper role, he could dazzle.
The Catcher Was A Spy was purchased by IFC Films and will be released on June 22.