Cinema Varitek: Major League

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Before I begin, I'd like to share with you my favorite screenshot from Major League that tells you, "Yes, this movie was released in 1989."

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Thank you.

cinema.majorleague.cover.jpg Each week Dan McQuade reviews a baseball movie. At-bat now in Cinema Varitek: Major League, the 1989 comedy about the Indians starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Rene Russo, Wesley Snipes, James Gammon and Dennis Haysbert; written and directed by David S. Ward (who wrote Sleepless in Seattle and wrote and directed The Program). These reviews usually contain spoilers.

Whatever the premise of a movie, it still must make sense. A movie can have dogs or girls (or dogs and girls) who play baseball or it can have an asteroid about to crash into earth. The characters in the movie must react like normal human beings. The details still need to be right.

Even the little things matter. At the end of Air Bud: World Pup, Buddy fills in for an injured Brianna Scurry (as herself) a save on the final penalty kick in the 2003 Women's World Cup to win it for the U.S. I know it's a kid's movie, but: What? Buddy is a boy. He shouldn't be allowed to play in the Women's World Cup. If I were a woman, I'd be offended.

Or take Roger Ebert's review of Air Bud: Golden Receiver:

The first time Buddy runs onto the field, the announcer shouts, "It's a dog!" Don't you kinda think a play-by-play announcer in a small suburban town would recognize the golden retriever that had just won the basketball championship? A dog like that, it attracts attention.

It's a bad sign for your movie if people are walking out of the theater talking about a huge plot hole, or a mistake or the couple next to them having sex during the movie's slow parts. A filmmaker can prevent the first two. And don't dismiss a movie's flaws just because it's a kids' film or a comedy (which mainly kids watch). Kids are the only ones who watch movies without being drunk or stoned or asleep. They'll notice this stuff.

Here's where I'm going: At the end of Major League, after the Cleveland Indians win the AL East (the movie's from 1989) in a one-game playoff, the movie ends.

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There's no mention of the American League Championship Series, no mention of the playoffs. The players celebrate, the fans run on the field (again, the movie's from 1989), hey, end of movie. A movie doesn't need a 20-minute epilogue to set up the sequel like Spider-man 2, but an extra scene or two would be nice.

Major League has some funny scenes, and a couple good one-liners. And it has the Allstate spokesman/president on 24 shaving his head with a knife.

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But it also has a a montage scene that goes all the way to clip (Q). Sports movies are cliched, baseball movies perhaps more so. But that doesn't mean the every character needs to be a one-note joke. We know virtually nothing at the end of the movie about the characters we didn't know when we first saw them. Whoo, let's celebrate!

Then again, the movie does have this:

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But even the groundskeepers are in on this, too; we see them celebrating wildly after the Indians win the division. Good movies have characters the audience can see existing outside the plot; in Major League, they exist only to serve the Cleveland Indians. And so it goes.

The movie opens with a standard newspaper cliche: Sports headlines. (Well, it was 20 years ago. It's now usually SportsCenter.) My favorite is this first paper:

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The studio would probably force a change in cities nowadays. Indians might offend some people. Pittsburgh is a perfect choice to replace Cleveland, but with the recent rise in media coverage of pirated-related heroism among ship captains, it might be safer to go with Baltimore. Unless bird flu makes a comeback. Nationals?

But I digress. (This is a theme in today's review, which is of Major League, in case you're wondering.) The movie chronicles the Indians' failures over the years with nonsensical headlines like "Indians Hit Skids, Finished 6th" and "Indians Collapse Continues......" And the lettering looks kerned, too, dammit!

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Or maybe you're supposed to read it as, "Indian shits kids." Then there's this marvel of front page design:

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The owner's body isn't even in the ground and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer is already asking if his ex-stripper widow can turn it around. Harsh.

The new owner is Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), who wants the team to be so bad attendance drops so low she can move the team. She makes Charlie Donovan (Charles Cyphers) the GM; he hires Lou Brown (James Gammon), who's managed the Toledo Mud Hens for 30 years. Together they assemble the worst team money can buy.

And all the characters are here. There's the pitcher with speed and control problems (Charlie Sheen as Rick Vaughn), the slugger who can't hit the curve (Dennis Haysbert as Pedro Cerrano), the aging high-priced free agent who can't field (Corbin Bernsen as Roger Dorn; the movies doesn't explore the possibility of him DHing), the speedster who can't hit (Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hays). And there's the aging catcher, Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), who is just looking for one last shot.

There. That's about it. There are a lot of jokes revolving around those characters and their personality traits -- respectively, they're a Wild Thing, a voodoo practitioner, a jerk, an egomaniac and a guy looking for one last shot with Lynn, played by Renee Russo -- but not much funny about baseball, except for one truly great sight gag when Jake Taylor chases after his love.

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Twenty years on, Major League is a bit of a victim of its success, since we now have closer anthems and loose cannon guys with no control in real major league baseball. But that stuff is kind of fun, and the Wild Thing entrance scenes still work. The in-game baseball scenes aren't bad, even now. Sheen looks like he can actually pitch. Bob Uecker is great. The game-winning play is kind of funny. But it's a long 107 minutes. At times, I almost felt like an Indians fan, and not in a good way. Obviously.

I mean, Even this part:

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When the manager rips off a piece of her clothing after every victory, there isn't even nudity. In an R-rated film. In 1989. Ugh.

Bonus! It's in 1989, but the movie's nearly smoke-free. Only Jo-Buu smokes, and that's for religious reasons:

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9 Comments

Sheen was a pitcher in high school and I believe college. Word is he hit low 80s on the set.

Dmac knows a LOT about the Air Bud franchise.

I know it better than any other dog-related sports franchise.

You know, I was really looking for a way to kill the last two hours here at the office.

/hits "print" on the script for Major League

Let's see ... realistic baseball scenes ... infinitely more quotable than Bull Durham ... the fat sweaty guy in the gray t-shirt that runs down the aisle onto the field not once, but twice in the final scene ...

What's wrong with it, exactly?

Juuuuust a bit outside...

the slugger who can't hit the curve (Dennis Haysbert as Rico Carty)

What's wrong with it, exactly?
No Kevin Costner.

What's wrong with it, exactly?

I know. I think it's that whole lack of an ALCS thing. It just makes me so mad! It made me mad when I was 8 and it makes me mad now.

(Although it's not that quotable. "You have no marbles" is in Major League II.)

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