Major league, it isn't. That's not to say that Major League, the latest in Hollywood's recent spate of baseball movies, is devoid of charm. On the scale employed by organized baseball, this one is worthy of a Triple A rating, and, hey, lots of people like to watch AAA ball. But this movie is about the Cleveland Indians, and if their long-suffering fans are going to be teased by Major League's creators into thinking they have a chance to win the American League East, they deserve a little better. So do the rest of us.
Actually, Major League answers two questions: 1) What would it take to turn the Indians into division winners? and 2) What would happen if filmmakers crossed Bull Durham with Police Academy 6? Like Bull Durham, this movie features an aging catcher, a beautiful love interest who gives batting tips, a wild young righthander and a player who practices voodoo. Like the popular and juvenile Police movies, Major League revels in silly sight gags and dirty words. Major League, written and directed by lifelong Indians fan David Ward, establishes its split personality right from the start. After an evocative opening, set to the tune of Randy Newman's mock anthem to Cleveland, Burn On, the movie immediately plunks down its farcical premise. The ex-show girl owner, having inherited the Indians from her late husband, wants to move the franchise to Miami and, to take advantage of a clause that would allow her to get out of the stadium lease if attendance falls below 800,000, she assembles a team sure to finish last.
The motley crew includes Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), a onetime star catcher with bad knees; Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), a fireballer whose previous experience includes a stint in the California Penal League; Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), a prima donna third baseman ("What did you want me to do, dive for it?"); Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), a speedster who tries out for the team in pajamas; Steve Harris (Chelcie Ross), a hypocritically religious pitcher who spreads jalape‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±o inside his nose when he needs to put a little extra on the ball; and Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), a Cuban slugger who thinks his idol, Jo-Bu, will cure his inability to hit the curve. Needless to say, when the Indians get wind of their owner's plans to move the franchise, they become world-beaters—or, at least, Yankee beaters.
There is a romantic subplot involving Taylor and his librarian ex-squeeze, played by Rene Russo, that needs arthroscopic surgery as much as he does. But it allows us the pleasure of watching him pull up to her apartment building in the Indians' bullpen cart.
The baseball playing is only so-so, although Sheen, who attended the Mickey Owen Baseball School in his youth, is a crackerjack pitcher, entirely believable as Wild Thing. All of the actors pretty much play to stereotype, but James Gammon, with his gravel voice and Dick Williams mustache, is particularly good as manager Lou Brown. He could probably get a job in the majors right now off his performance. In smaller roles, Bob Uecker, playing radio announcer Harry Doyle, gets off some great lines doing an impersonation of Bob Uecker, and former Brewers pitcher and dirtball Pete Vuckovich plays Yankee slugger and dirtball Klu Haywood. "He leads the majors in most offensive categories," Doyle says of Haywood, "including nose hair."
There are a lot of things to like about Major League: a radio color man who never talks, a terrific takeoff on an American Express commercial. The Wild Thing device—Indians fans sing the old rock classic when Vaughn enters the game—is particularly inspired, so much so that you can expect some city to adopt it this summer. (An early-season prognostication: Cub fans will hang it on Mitch Williams.)
The worst part of watching Major League is knowing that there is a higher intelligence out there somewhere; a nice Moby Dick joke gets lost in the lame subplot. Writer-director Ward, who wrote The Sting and adapted The Milagro Beanfield War, does a little too much slumming and ultimately pulls the movie down.
But at the end, the movie goes a long way toward redeeming itself. In the climactic playoff game with the Yankees, you'll cheer Hayes's catch and Cerrano's homer and Vaughn's strikeout as if you were in Cleveland Stadium. But you'll leave wondering how the Indians did in the American League Championship Series. You might also leave wondering what the movie would have been like had it not been quite so silly.