Chris Columbus Swings for the Fences with John Grisham's Calico Joe

Chris Columbus/Photo © Debby Wong/Shutterstock
Chris Columbus/Photo © Debby Wong/Shutterstock

Chris Columbus has created a cinematic empire that is Hollywood's equivalent to Starbucks, churning out well-intentioned and broadly appealing movies that are safe, reliable, and built from roughly the same ingredients every time. At the same time, there is nothing cheap or crass about Columbus' growing collection of high-end tent-poles, which includes two "Harry Potter" films and an adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. But like that Seattle-based purveyor of frothy coffee concoctions, what Columbus may lack in edge or originality he more than makes up for with a bighearted desire to surpass his own limitations while always giving the people what they want.

So there is a kind of creative synergy to the recent news that Columbus has struck a deal to adapt John Grisham's most recent literary juggernaut, Calico Joe, which represents a huge creative risk for Grisham, who stepped out of his lawyerly strike zone to craft an intimate, relationship-driven narrative that may be his most emotionally satisfying work to date. Despite having secured a prime camping spot atop the bestseller list since it debuted in April, Calico Joe contains none of the intricate plot twists and cliffhangers that have made Grisham's novels a fixture in beach bags and briefcases worldwide. Instead, Grisham exits his usual cerebral terrain for this heartfelt story of a Midwestern minor league baseball phenom whose unlikely rise to hometown hero status has a ripple effect on the relationship between the fathers and sons in his orbit.

There is nothing unconventional or even unlikely about this union of blockbuster novelist and filmmaker. But there is something undeniably thrilling about the prospect of watching an artist venture beyond the bounds of his own success and expose new sides of himself to his audience. Just as Calico Joe's quiet insights into men and the nature of the bonds they create required Grisham to stretch and expand into new terrain, we're hoping that this project will do the same for Columbus, who will be stepping up to the plate to direct his first baseball picture -- and the rare Columbus film that doesn't rely heavily on special pyrotechnics in a long time.

Calico Joe's prospects of  scoring a home run with critics and moviegoers will depend on the cast and key crew Columbus assembles for the project. But Columbus has a fairly high batting average when it comes to matching actors to iconic roles; we have him to thank for placing Daniel Radcliffe atop Harry Potter's broom or Emma Watson in Hermione Granger's cloak. So, in the spirit of fantasy baseball, we'd love to see someone like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role. Now it's your turn to weigh in on Columbus' prospects as head coach of this project and who you'd most like to see play Calico and Warren and Paul Tracey.