Category Archives: Baseball Movies

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

Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987)

amazing grace

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid stops playing baseball.

After touring a nuclear missile plant 11-year-old Chuck (Joshua Zuehlke) becomes traumatized at the prospect of nuclear war and wants to come up with some way to help prevent it. His solution is to quit playing little league baseball until there is complete nuclear disarmament as his pitching skills are impressive and therefore his talents will be sorely missed and thus make a strong statement to others about his commitment. After reading about him in a newspaper Amazing Grace (Alex English) a star basketball player for the Boston Celtics decides to do the same thing. He even moves to Livingston, Montana where Chuck resides so the two can carry on their self-styled protest together. Soon other athletes jump onto the bandwagon until a genuine movement is created that eventually gets the attention of world leaders.

The plot is indeed idealistic if not extraordinarily fanciful and has the stigma of being written by David Field who later went on to write the script for ‘Invisible Child’ a notorious Lifetime movie that has gained a cult following for having one of the dumbest plotlines ever and this one isn’t all that far behind. My eyes were already rolling before it even began, but I still wanted to give it a chance. Mike Newell’s direction is competent and Zuehlke’s performance in this his one and only film appearance is convincing and it even has a cameo appearance by coaching legend Red Auerbach.

I found it almost unnatural though that any kid could have such a strong resolve and commit to such a major sacrifice as at that age they can go through a lot of different phases and whatever they may be into one day can be something completely different just a few days later. Even responsible adults can have a hard time sticking to their commitments, so expecting a kid to do so seemed almost outlandish, but I forgave it because his Dad was a fighter pilot and therefore it made it more personal.

I was even willing to forgive the second act, which gets increasingly more strained and implausible by the minute because of the presence of Chuck’s father (William Petersen) who manages to keep things somewhat grounded by being the film’s only cynical character. However, the idea that a famous and successful player, which is played by an actual former NBA star who gives a wooden performance, would read a short article about a kid in a newspaper and that would be enough to ‘inspire’ him to quit everything and move to the middle of nowhere is just downright ridiculous as is Chuck being called to White House all alone and not accompanied by his parents, so that he could speak with the President (Gregory Peck) who begged him to start playing again because his stubborn stance has somehow hurt their bargaining power with the Russians.

The third act though is when it all gets to be too much and something that no logical or rational person will be able to swallow no matter how optimistic they may be. The film also enters in a side story dealing with Grace being stalked by a terrorist group threatening to kill him unless he goes back to playing basketball, which seemed to come from some completely different movie altogether and makes this already implausible story all the more absurd.

I’m all for a ‘feel-good’ movie, but there has to be some bearing in reality and when every player around the world quits playing and all the children quit speaking in order to show their solidarity for Chuck then this thing becomes just plain stupid and takes the concept of wish fulfillment to ridiculously new and embarrassing heights.

Of course there are some who feel the ‘positive message’ outweighs its otherwise fairy tale-like theme. There is even one reviewer on Amazon who shows his students this movie as a way to teach them the importance of having a ‘cause’. I for one think this would be a bad thing to show to young viewers because it gives them the idea that fighting for social change will be a quick and satisfying experience while also making them ‘famous’ in the process, which seems to be setting them up for a tremendous fall when they actually get out into the real world and find things to be the exact opposite.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 19, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Mike Newell

Studio: Tri Star Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD-R, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Bull Durham (1988)

bull durham

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Catcher mentors a rookie.

Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is a veteran of the minor league baseball system and is brought in to the Durham Bulls to help mentor Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) a rookie pitcher with a ‘million dollar arm, but a five-cent brain’. Crash teaches Nuke all about the finer points of the game as well as learning to show discipline and control both on and off the field. Annie (Susan Sarandon) is a local fan who each year does some ‘mentoring’ of her own with one of the players by taking them in and having a torrid sexual relationship with them. This year she chooses Nuke much to the consternation of Crash who would like her for his own.

The film is loosely based on the experiences writer/director Ron Shelton had while being a minor league player during the late 60’s.  Keeping the focus solely on the minor league level and never analyzing the majors was to me a big strength. Too many times Hollywood sports movies try to capture that ‘championship season’ or ‘miracle victory’ while forgetting that there are hundreds if not thousands of players who never get to that point, but still have interesting stories to share. The minor league theme puts the game back to its grass roots level where it should be while evoking a wonderful feeling of modern day Americana.

The film makes the viewer feel that they are right down on the field with the players and they gain special insights into the game that they would never have just watching it in the stands on or TV. The thoughts that go through a hitters head as he stands at the plate are interesting as are the interplay between catcher and pitcher. The meeting at the mound scene where the players get together during a game to discuss what wedding gift to get another player who is about to be married is hilarious as is the segment where Crash teaches Nuke all the sports clichés to give when being interviewed by the media.

Robbins is terrific in what I still consider one of the best performances of his career. The character could have been annoying if there weren’t so many young men out there like that. The composite of the young, brash, cocky hot shot who thinks he knows everything, but actually knows very little is so perfectly done that just about anybody will be able to identify with somebody they know or have known who is just like it.

Costner on the other hand is a bit too detached and his performance comes off very much like the restrained way he dances during the closing credits. The character also seems like a flaming alcoholic as he is seen drinking in just about every other scene, but his ongoing exchanges with Robbins are great and the main ingredient that holds the film together.

Throwing in a sex angle was to me a turnoff as personally I never like to mix the two. The Millie (Jenny Robertson) character that is shown and known to sleep with a lot of the players seemed to me to be idiotic especially since this takes place in the 80’s, which was at the height of the AIDS scare.

Sarandon is okay although the part was originally intended for Kay Lenz who I think I would have preferred. The line where her character states that she would never sleep with a player who hit under 250 unless he had a lot of RBI’s and was a great glove man up the middle is classic and the scene near the end where her and Crash make love in a bathtub while surrounded by a throng of lighted candles is on a visual level a highlight.

I loved the bluesy music score as well as the shrine to Thurmon Munson seen at the end. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite sports movie, but the characters are richly textured and the dialogue instantly quotable, which makes it a winner anyways.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ron Shelton

Studio: Orion Pictures

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