A note on baseball movies

I finally got around today to watching Major League: Back to the Minors, a movie I put off for years.  The original Major League, from 1989 is one of my all-time favorites, and its 1994 follow-up stunk something fierce.  Major League II, along with Speed 2: Cruise Control taught me never to trust sequels to films I love.

Good baseball movies are usually corny, funny and moving, all at once.  Some of my favorites include Bull Durham, 61* and Field of Dreams, and I might like Major League the most.  I still watch it almost every year.  About a Cleveland Indians team designed by its owner to finish last, the film is built around oddball characters.  Ex-con Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn  (played by Charlie Sheen) informs teammates he last played in the California Penal League.  Another rookie Willie Mays Hayes (played by Wesley Snipes) shows up to spring training uninvited and is then kicked out in the middle of the night.  Security carries him out in his cot, sleeping, and he wakes up outside the next morning.  “I’ve been cut already?” a confused Hayes surmises, practice going on behind him.  He then charges into a sprinting drill, barefoot and in his nightgown, and blows past two other players.  He gets a uniform and the scene pretty much sums up the entire movie.  It builds to a climatic final game and I always feel elated after Hayes scores the winning run with a hook slide and the Indians celebrate.  I’m a man of simple pleasures.

Omar Epps replaced Snipes for the sequel and little else about that movie seems right.  The PG rating robs the sequel of the blue humor of its predecessor and the script isn’t nearly as sharp or biting.  The net result feels overly orchestrated, commercial and, moreover, cynical.  We learn in the sequel that after the Indians won their division in the first film, the Chicago White Sox swept them in the playoffs.  Accordingly, the sequel leaves off with the Indians topping the White Sox in the playoffs, leading one to surmise that the third installment would say the Indians lost the subsequent World Series and now needed redemption.  Had the sequel not flopped at the box office, we might have gotten this.  Instead, we have Major League: Back to the Minors.

When it arrived in 1998, it looked rank from a distance.  The team depicted had changed from the Indians to the Minnesota Twins, for no discernible reason.  Most of the original cast had departed, save for Dennis Haysbert, Corbin Bernsen, Bob Uecker and Steve Yeager.  And the movie was set in the minors.  A girl in my high school went to see the movie with some friends as a joke and she said that save for one family, they were the only people in the theater.  I stayed away.  However, I’ve had Netflix for a couple months now, and a man can only go so long waiting for The Hangover to become available until running out of picks for his queue.  Which brings me to today.

I watched the third entry in the Major League series and it wasn’t terrible.  The story of a struggling minor league team that takes on its parent, the Twins, the film moves at a smooth clip.  Granted, there is plenty to criticize.  It isn’t cheerfully vulgar, hilarious, or inspiring like the original.  In fact, it feels nothing like that movie, connected in name only.  I also didn’t feel any suspense in the story buildup and its plot points could be spotted coming from a neighboring county.  Additionally, it made no reference whatsoever to the Indians, no explanation as to why Bernsen’s character Roger Dorn left that organization to own the Twins, which seemed odd.  A little exposition never hurt anyone, particularly in a film series.  Still, I found the film pleasant, certainly easier to watch than the overblown sequel.  It wasn’t anything remarkable, but I’ve found worse ways to kill an hour and a half.

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