Hey Keanu, clean up your movie!
by Annie Sweeney and Fran Spielman
A movie about North Side Little Leaguers starring Keanu Reeves is under fire from Mayor Daley and Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, who say Hollywood has turned a good story about Chicago into a foul-mouthed tale.
Daley wants references to Chicago removed because he says the movie wrongly shows kids shouting four-letter words at volunteer coaches who have been forced by their companies to help out.
Vallas is upset that children are being taken out of school to appear in the film and recite lines often laced with rough language. "It's the 'Clockwork Orange' version of 'The Bad News Bears,' " Vallas said.
The movie is based on Daniel Coyle's nonfiction book, Hardball: A Season in the Projects, about a Little League team at Cabrini-Green.
Vallas and others who said they have obtained portions of the script said the language used by children is offensive and graphic, and the movie reinforces negative stereotypes.
The players supposedly use the "f" word liberally.
"They just don't want this movie to portray all the good things they've done," the mayor said about the league's coaches. "They don't use four-letter words. The kids are not how they're portrayed, as well as the coaches."
Daley suggested the Chicago league not be the setting for the movie. "If they want to portray it someplace else, fine, make it someplace else. But not with this league. Don't portray this league."
Vallas plans to find out why Chicago pupils, who account for 25 percent of the children in the movie, were excused from school to appear in it.
"Children should not be missing school to be extras on a movie," Vallas said. "That problem is reinforced [when they] participate in an event that reinforces negative stereotypes. . . . The movie industry needs to be a little more responsible."
Paramount Pictures, which is making the film, released a statement saying the movie "is a dramatic work of fiction.
"While it is inspired by real events, all of the characters . . . are fictional."
Robert Muzikowski, former president of the Near North Side league that was the subject of Coyle's book, said he is considering legal action against Paramount. Muzikowski said he and other coaches were not happy with how they were portrayed in Coyle's book, but his first concern was about portrayal of the children.
"We are kind of heartbroken," Muzikowski said.
"They have come into our town and taken a wonderful story and dirtied it up because they think they know how black kids act."
Recent comments by Reeves in the New York Post first drew fire from Muzikowski.
Reeves said about the movie: "I hope we can have the kids talk the way they really talk, let them swear. It will be an R-rated picture.
"It's a film about both the kids and [Reeves' character] saving each other."
This is not the first time a Chicago mayor has stepped forward to protect the city's image from filmmakers.
In 1961, Mayor Richard J. Daley threatened to go to England to set the record straight after the BBC produced a film about Chicago he called a "monstrosity." It depicted the city as filled with slums, honky-tonks and brutal slaughterhouses.