Major League Movie Review

A baseball nerd like me loves Major League because the action scenes look realistic. No one throws the ball like a three-year-old or swings the bat like a drunken teen making a pass at his prom date, though Tom Berenger needs work on his bunting. The storyline involves real teams playing in real stadiums.

For those who wish ESPN never existed, Major League is easy to love because it's very funny and its characters are likeable beyond their athletic ability. For a movie that focuses on a sport that has long ceased to be the national pastime, anyone can love Major League.

The movie brings us to Cleveland, where the Indians are set to have another awful year and are expected to have no chance to make it to the World Series. This year is different. The club's new owner (Margaret Whitton) has put together a team of misfits and has-beens (managed by a man who last worked at Tire World) meant to drive down attendance, allowing her to move the snake bit franchise to Miami.

The concept -- a lovable bunch of rogues come together as a team -- has been used repeatedly. Two years later, for example, the success of Major League spawned a lame football version, Necessary Roughness. What that movie didn't have, its far superior predecessor has in abundance, starting with the cast. Berenger is not a comedian, but he is charming. That trait works to his advantage here, playing a past-his-prime catcher hoping for one last moment in the sun and a second chance with the woman he left behind (Rene Russo, in her first major role). Russo's easy charm, baseball knowledge, and loads of hair make her easy to love.

Through Berenger's character you root for the Indians and their inevitable resurgence. Writer/director David S. Ward puts most of the comedic burden on the supporting cast, not fussing much with the game scenes. That's a good thing, since topping Leslie Nielsen's umpiring adventure in The Naked Gun is like trying to duplicate the mirror sequence in Duck Soup.

Bob Uecker (yes, Bob Uecker) is great as Harry Doyle, the longtime Indians broadcaster who has dropped his professional facade after watching countless years of inept play.

Doyle (on air): "That's all we got, one goddamn hit?"

Broadcast Partner (shocked): "You can't say goddamn on the air."

Doyle: "Don't worry, nobody's listening anyway."

It's an eclectic cast featuring everyone from Charlie Sheen and Wesley Snipes to classier actors like Dennis Haysbert and James Gammon, who steals every scene he's in as the old-school manager. Ward, who wrote The Sting, gives every main character a distinct personality and the dialogue to match. Berenger may be the most fleshed-out character here, but he's certainly not the only we enjoy watching. Snipes is so exuberant here that it's a shame he's stopped taking roles where he has to smile.

Ward's work is impressive because he makes us laugh like idiots while capturing the joy involved in playing sports. When played right, team sports aren't just highly trained athletes performing for the masses, they're a physical form of bonding. That's why Hoosiers and A League of their Own are terrific, while Mr. 3000 and For Love of the Game play on TV while most of us sleep. That hard-to-grasp quality makes Major League timeless. For Indians fans, that'll have to do until a World Series flag is flown.

The DVD includes an interesting deleted sequence wherein the evil Whitton turns out to be good, not evil (deleted because she worked better as an outright villain), several featurettes (including one on Uecker), interviews with the cast, and a commentary track. The DVD sleeve is covered in faux Astroturf. Funny.

Cast & Crew

Director : David S. Ward

Producer : Chris Chesser,


Comments

Major League Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: R, 1989

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