Reel Baseball – Major League (1989)

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Adding to the long list of series the ISCFC will never finish, baseball movies! After years of not really being bothered by sport, I find myself a huge fan of the St Louis Cardinals in particular and baseball in general. So, what better way to combine my love of film and baseball than to do a series on baseball films? There’s going to be comedies and dramas (mostly dramas) and documentaries and insane Japanese horror films, so strap in! Also, anyone who can think of a good name for this series of reviews will win a prize. Best so far – “Reel Baseball” (which I think I subconsciously ripped off from somewhere else).

If you saw “Major League” when you were a kid, as I did, and then watched it now, I guarantee your hazy memories of the film will be wrong. The knockabout comedy about the scrappy misfits who go all the way is actually a drama about Tom Berenger, a washed up former player who has a chance to make one last run at the big leagues, desperately trying to rekindle the relationship with the woman he loved but treated badly; the comedy seems to be a bit of an afterthought, like they hired Charlie Sheen at the last minute and did some 11th hour rewrites to add some laughs.

The Cleveland Indians are a terrible baseball team, and their new owner, a former Vegas showgirl who married into money, has an idea. If the team tanks and their season’s attendance drops below 800,000, she can cancel their contract with Cleveland and move the team to Miami, which has a climate more to her liking. To this end, she lets all the good players go, hires a bunch of has-beens, never-weres and raw rookies (along with a gruff coach who was working in a garage while managing some minor-league team part time), and waits for the blissful time ahead in Miami.

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And that’s it, a nicely simple premise for a film. The personalities – “That Guy” legend Chelcie Ross as (very) old veteran Eddie Harris; Dennis Haysbert as voodoo-practising Cerrano; Wesley Snipes as super-cocky Willie Mays Hayes; Corbin Bernsen as wealthy underachiever Roger Dorn; and Charlie Sheen as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, bounce off each other and make most of the laughs in the film. It works, too! They seem like real characters, and the only reason they feel a bit over the top is the corporate behemoth baseball has become in the last 25 years, with personalities being ground into the dirt. These guys would have been the most normal player on any team of the 1970s.

Add in Berenger as the dramatic lead and sport legend Bob Uecker as the commentator, and you’ve got yourself a sport movie. As the team starts coming together and winning matches, Berenger and former girlfriend Rene Russo’s relationship begins thawing. To be fair, as this is starting to read like a love-in for this movie, we never really see any evidence of him reforming his philandering ways, and he attempts to even play down the bad things he did, which indicates they’ll be having the same old problems a few minutes after this film finishes. But as we all know, women are prizes for being good at your job or being really brave! Oh Rene Russo, you beautiful beautiful plot device!

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It’s a great film, really, and nails the beats of the classic sport movie well. It’s also weird seeing Cleveland in its industrial prime, given what a horrible mess the city apparently is now, with jobs leaving the city in droves…but here’s the boring film reviewer bit where I talk about why it doesn’t work. Never take your eyes off the main cast members, because when the coach is giving his rousing speech, the extras playing the other members of the team don’t respond at all. At least smile or cheer or something, you guys! It’s really quite off-putting at times. As I’ve alluded to above, the addition of flat-out comedy to the gentle drama is a bit odd, but once you get used to it, it’s fine. A sort of mix you don’t really get too much these days, like with the buddy-buddy cop drama now being the preserve of straight comedies like “The Other Guys” and “21 Jump Street”.

There are two more films in the “Major League” franchise to look forward to – a sequel five years later, then a Sheen-less part 3 a few years after that. And so much more! Stay with us, ISCFC readers.

Rating: thumbs up

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