Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993) / Drama

MPAA Rated: PG for language
Running Time: 110 min.

Cast: Max Pomeranc, Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne, David Paymer, William H. Macy, Michael Nirenberg, Robert Stephens, Hal Scardino, Dan Hedaya, Laura Linney, Tony Shalhoub, Josh Mostel, Austin Pendleton
Director: Steve Zaillian
Screenplay: Steve Zaillian
Review published December 19, 2004

Based on a true story, Josh Waitzkin is a 7-year-old boy who becomes fascinated by the game of chess after watching the locals play speed chess in a New York park.  After picking up the game, he tests himself against the players there, and his prodigious skills earn him the reputation as the next Bobby Fischer, perhaps the most famous chess champion the United States has ever had.  Josh's parents see the talent for themselves, and decide to let him broaden his skills by finding him a teacher, and letting him compete in the junior circuit.  Trouble is, everyone soon has high hopes for Josh to the point where he no longer has fun playing, and he's willing to toss it all aside so things can be like they were.

Searching for Bobby Fischer is a crowd-pleasing sports film written and directed by Steven Zaillian (A Civil Action, All the King's Men) that gets high marks from critics and audiences alike, but which I personally found to be too manipulative and contrived to swallow down in a satisfactory way.  It does feature a very impressive cast of actors, who all do very good work in their respective roles, which makes this film feel a few notches above made-for-TV fare. 

While I was modestly entertained by Searching for Bobby Fischer, especially as it entered the more conflicted second half, I also found it to be very irritating in its attempts to be inspirational, and found myself cringing from the many scenes that are contrived beyond the level of believability. 

The acting and James Horner's (Sneakers, Patriot Games) score are about the only things thought were above average in this passable but clichéd film about a young boy overcoming the odds.  In the end, I was more fascinated by the life of Bobby Fischer, which is presented in news footage once in a while, and thought to myself that a documentary on Bobby, or even one based on Josh's story, would be far more preferable that this artificially embellished drama. 

I realize that I'm in the minority of people who don't think this isn't really that good of a movie, although I'll admit, it did hold my interest enough for me to think it still worthwhile, which for a film about chess means it deserves at least some props.  Still, Zaillian's film is like the professional class of chess, rather than the game played out in the park -- disciplined, but too rigid to allow for much freedom for expression, with every turn pre-determined well in advance.

Qwipster's rating:

©2004 Vince Leo