Major League (1989)

major league

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cleveland Indians become winners.

Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) is the new owner of the Cleveland Indians and her goal is to move the team to the sunnier locale of Miami. She finds a clause in the lease stating that if the team is unable to attract 800,000 in attendance for the season then she will be able to break the contract without penalty. Her plan then is to assemble the biggest bunch of misfits that she can, so that they’ll be so bad nobody will want to watch them, but her idea backfires as the losers somehow find a way to win.

I remember seeing this movie when it was first released and being unimpressed with it as it seemed to be taking the Rocky underdog, lovable-loser theme to redundant heights and beating a tired formula that was already getting stale. It was like The Bad News Bears, but without the interesting subtext. The plot is so obvious that you know where it’s going right from the start and thus making it almost pointless to watch. Unlike Bull Durham it offers no new insights into the nuances of the game and the crude humor is only amiable at best.

However, upon second viewing I found it to be a passable time-filler and the crowd scenes during the film’s climactic game sequence were impressive. Most films, even the good ones, have a hard time recreating the kinetic atmosphere of a live game, but this film manages to hit-the-mark and made me feel like I was watching an actual contest.

The casting is also good with each actor a perfect fit for their part especially Charlie Sheen and Corbin Bernsen. I also enjoyed Chelcie Ross even though he was 46 at that time and looking a bit too old to still be playing. However, his character’s attempts to convert everyone to Christianity particularly the player that practices voodoo is amusing. I also enjoyed James Gammons as the manager as his character is refreshingly sensible and grounded and works as a much needed anchor to the silliness.

Whitton, who hasn’t appeared in a film in over 20 years, is great as the bitchy owner and is hot-looking as well. However, I couldn’t quite buy into the fact that she stubbornly continued to cheer against the team winning even after it became painfully clear that her hoped for low attendance mark would never be reached. If anything their winning would help the team’s market value and she could sell them at a nice profit and move herself to the sunny beach. With all the national cameras most likely trained on her during the playoff game why not, at least at the very end, have her begrudgingly get with the crowd and show some appreciation for what the players had accomplished.

I also got a bit of a kick out of a life-sized cardboard cutout that is created of her and a piece of its dress ripped off with each win that the team gets, but writer-director Ward chickens out on his own outrageous concept by having the figure still wearing pasties and a bikini bottom even after the dress is fully removed. The players still cheer raucously at the sight of it nonetheless, but in real-life I think there would’ve been boos as they most likely would be expecting full nudity and disappointed when it didn’t materialize.

The side story dealing with Tom Berenger’s character trying to reconcile things with his estranged wife that is played by Rene Russo is contrived and unnecessary and with the runtime being so long, especially with such a threadbare storyline, should’ve been cut out entirely. I also found it a bit annoying the way Berenger’s character barges into her apartment and her fiancée’s unannounced and without even bothering to knock. Most people lock their doors behind them once they get inside and thus making his attempts to ‘sneak-in’ unlikely anyways.

The majority of the film was shot in Milwaukee and not Cleveland making me wonder why they didn’t just use the Milwaukee Brewers as the team since their history is almost a dismal as the Indians. It’s also important to note that we are only shown what happens in the pennant and never the World Series, which is just as well as the whole thing is a bit fantastical anyways especially given the rooster’s woeful talent and having them go all the way would’ve been too much of a stretch even for a wishful thinking, feel-good movie such as this.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 7, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated R

Director: David S. Ward

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

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