Reel Baseball: Major League 2 (1994)

I was going to write a serious, normal sort of review for this movie. Then I thought it’d be a lot easier to just publish my review of the first one again BECAUSE THEY’RE REALLY REALLY SIMILAR

Now that shout is out of the way…I appreciate there’s not a ton of different things you can do with a baseball movie. “Plucky band of misfits win the day” is by far the simplest, but the problem for the producers of this movie is, they already did that and the Cleveland Indians are winners now. So, what to do, what to do? The answer is – spend the first 45 minutes of the movie turning them back into loveable losers! Willie Mays-Hayes (now played by Omar Epps, as Wesley Snipes had become a star since 1989) has a knee injury so isn’t as fast as he was; Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) buys the team and is terrible at being an owner; Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) retires to become a coach; Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) becomes a Buddhist and doesn’t care if he hits or not; and coach Lou has a heart attack and is relegated to a hospital bed for most of the movie. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo, Rene Russo pops up to give Berenger some advice which he completely ignores. I get the feeling she was in town for half a day and they got her to film a scene – still, it’s good to know they’re still together I guess?

Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has a transformation greater than them all. He becomes a corporate shill whose crazy days seem far behind him, with a beautiful blonde agent / girlfriend, abandoning the 2nd grade teacher girlfriend he apparently had the previous year. This is Nikki (Michelle Burke), who despite working with troubled kids thinks Ricky was much better before – which in this case was when he was a violent troublemaker, in and out of jail (where we met him at the beginning of the first movie). I hope you’re getting a flavour of where this is going.

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So when the team is torn down again, just before the halfway mark…they run what amounts to a repeat of the first movie. Dorn sells the team back to Rachel Phelps, the villain from part 1, even though when her plan to run the team down and move it to Miami was discovered, she’d have definitely been barred from ever owning another team again. She does the same dirty tricks she did in part 1, the team bonds the same way they did in part 1, and they get all the way to the World Series, one better than they did in part 1. The primary antagonist (Phelps isn’t in it enough) is catcher Jack Parkman (David Keith), who is signed by the Indians, treats the rest of the team like garbage then is traded to the Chicago White Sox halfway through the season – guess who they need to get out in the last game of the movie?

Reading the IMDB goofs section for this is fun. They get pretty much every aspect of baseball wrong, from simple matters of fact like batting orders changing from inning to inning to blatant rule infringements (catchers aren’t allowed to insult batters at the plate, for one). They rip off the most famous incidents in the game’s history, like Babe Ruth’s called shot and Willie Mays’ overhead catch, almost casually; okay, this is worse if you’re actually a fan of baseball, but there were real players involved with the movie who probably could have told them this stuff.

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Again, like the first movie, it’s a drama with comedy elements awkwardly welded on. Bob Uecker as the commentator tries to provide laughs but fails, Randy Quaid as the mouthy fan in the bleachers is just loud and annoying, and while the team are mostly strong actors, comedy doesn’t appear to be their thing – honourable exception to Dennis Haysbert, whose new religious faith is played pretty well (although I’m sure Buddhists are able to compete at sport, the same as everyone else).

A couple of years ago, during Charlie Sheen’s “troubles”, they were evidently planning a new “Major League” movie, ignoring the part 3 that was made in 1998 (which a surprisingly large number of cast members – minus Sheen and Berenger – returned for). No-one mentioned to Charlie at the time that the entire cast would be a tiny bit long in the tooth to be baseball players, and unless they were all going to be coaches? Anyway, it was a bad idea, and it looks like it’s been dropped, plus Sheen’s star is somewhat less bright than it was then.

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“Major League 2” did manage to predict the future, in two odd ways. The Cleveland Indians made the World Series the year after this movie was released, their first time ever; and their trading for a Japanese player (comedian Takaaki Ishibashi) predates the influx of Japanese players into baseball by a number of years. But sadly, that’s not enough to make it a good movie, which is a damn shame as there’s tons of potential for a great comedy to be made about baseball. It’s not going to offend you, and there’s gentle laughs here and there, so go into it with very low expectations and you might be okay.

Rating: thumbs down

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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