Baseball was more popular in 20th Century than it is today. This allowed Hollywood to make some very successful baseball films, because its popularity, even limited to USA and few other countries, guaranteed that they could turn profitable even when with distribution limited to North America. One of them was Major League, 1989 comedy written and directed by David S. Ward.
The plot deals with fictionalised version of Cleveland Indians, Major League Baseball team (recently forced to change its name to “Cleveland Guardians”) plagued with lack of any titles from 1954 till few years after production of this film. The plot begins when the team is inherited by Rachel Phelps (played by Margaret Whitton), former showgirl who can’t stand Cleveland and wants to relocate to Miami. The only way to do so without breaking contract with the city is to have yearly attendance at the stadium below 800,000. So, she insists on hiring worst possible team, made of tired veterans and inexperienced rookies, in a hope that poor results would chase away even the most loyal fans from the stands. The team includes Jake Taylor (played by Tom Berenger), catcher with bad knees; Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (played by Charlie Sheen), young pitcher with criminal record and visual impairment; Roger Dorn (played by Corbin Bernsen), primadonna third baseman who avoids risking damage to his face; Eddie Harris (played by Chelcie Ross), aged pitcher who recently became born again Christian; and Pedro Cerrano (played by Dennis Haysbert), Cuban hitter who practices voodoo rituals. At first the plan works, but when the team gradually improves her game, Phelps uses all kinds of tricks to demoralise them and make their life miserable. When team manager Lou Brown (played by James Gammons) learns about her true intentions, he tells the team and motivates it to win against all odds.
Anyone expecting something fresh and original in Major League is going to be disappointed, because the film in its essence represents collection of Hollywood sport film cliches about underdogs experiencing all kinds of challenges and humiliations before ultimately reaching their improbable triumph. Writer and director David S. Ward is lifelong fan of Clevelands Indians and he claimed that was inspired for his script by desire to see on big screen something he and fellow fans in real life had been waiting in vain for decades. This pent up frustration was channelled into serviceable script and collection of interesting characters, aided by deep knowledge of the game and its background. Ward wisely recognised that baseball is a team sport, so Major League is an ensemble piece, with many actors playing interesting and well-drawn roles. Some use those opportunities better than others, like Charlie Sheen (who was actually accomplished baseball player in his high school years) who perfectly embodies “Wild Thing” or Dennis Haybsert in a role so different from President Palmer in 24. Tom Berenger is good, but his character is burdened with unnecessary subplot dealing with ex girlfriend (played by model Rene Russo in her film debut). Veteran character actor James Gammons leaves very good impression in the role of grandfatherly manager. Wesley Snipes in the role of one of the players is solid, but shadowed by other performances. Humour in this film is rather crude for this sort of films, with plenty of foul language, but this adds a little realism what would otherwise be just another Hollywood fairytale. Major League, however, could be best recommended to the audience that love or at least has some familiarity with America’s favourite pastime; viewers that don’t much about baseball will have problems understanding some of the jokes and the plot. Major League was successful enough to spawn two sequels in 1990s - Major League II and Major League: Back to the Minors - but neither of them, rather predictably, managed to repeat the success of the original.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
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