'Hu$tle' a bit short on believability

Friday, September 24th 2004, 6:37 am
By: News On 6

(AP)_The disappointing thing about "Hu$tle", the ESPN movie about Pete Rose's gambling addiction that is airing Saturday at 6 p.m., is that its script was taken from one that already existed.

No, this isn't an indictment of biographies. Anytime a true story is made into a film, some kind of real-life script has already been written. But in the case of "Hu$tle", ESPN decided to adapt its script strictly from the Dowd Report, the scathing report by investigator John Dowd that determined Rose bet on baseball.

By all accounts, the Dowd Report is an exhaustive piece of work that clearly demonstrates Rose's transgressions. But it's difficult to believe everything you see in "Hu$tle" knowing there is no influence from other sources.

EOE executive vice president of programming and production Mark Shapiro said there were no attempts to involve Rose in the film, acknowledging the network knew Rose wouldn't be interested. Shapiro said the network attempted to interview Rose about the movie last weekend when he was in Bristol, Conn. for an autograph show, but he declined.

"There were never any attempts to get him involved. We knew Pete wouldn't want to be involved," Shapiro said. "We tried to follow the Dowd Report as closely as we possibly could. We didn't want to color it with opinions, but give the viewers the chance to see what Dowd saw visually."

Needless to say, the film casts Rose in a very unfavorable light. He's portrayed by Tom Sizemore as the gambling addict that he was, one who would do or say anything to protect himself. He's a downright liar, pretending to be friends with the cronies around him until he doesn't need them anymore.

"In many ways, it's a sad story," Shapiro said. "When it comes to life, it's even sadder."

The script did allow for isolated moments where it appears Rose has a heart. One scene depicts Rose telling third baseman Buddy Bell to leave spring training to care for his sick daughter, and that his position would be waiting for him whenever he returned.

"A lot of things he did were reprehensible, but we wanted to find a balance," director Peter Bogdanovich said. "It was hard to find a balance because most everything he did in the story was not very likable. But I think Tom succeeded in finding the human being underneath. Maybe what he did was wrong, but he's not a terrible human being."

Sizemore is serviceable as Rose, but the portrayal of Rose confidant Paul Janszen by actor Dash Mihok is perplexing. Janszen is the man who placed Rose's bets, and ultimately who blew the whistle on Rose after Rose failed to pay him for his services.

Mihok actually gives a strong performance, but his depiction of Janszen as a timid, unsure martyr who essentially is brainwashed by being close to Rose wasn't understandable. The viewer is left wondering about Janszen's background, and why he is so insecure.

"I think my character was portrayed a bit gently. I think he was a little more rough," Mihok said. "I think it was done in that way in order to make the movie more dramatic and the story more polarized. I think that made him a tad more innocent then he may have been."