By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Wesley Snipes, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert, Margaret Whitton, Rene Russo, Charles Cyphers, and Bob Uecker
Starting from the 70s and all the way through films of today, the notion of underrated ‘underdog misfits’ who start horribly, but eventually band together for a chance at the title is something that audiences have gravitated to. It also seems that if you were to make a sports comedy, this would be the logical way to take it. And, for the most part, they have been highly enjoyable. Films like Bad News Bears, Necessary Roughness, and even Mighty Ducks are definite mainstays on my shelf, and I will pop one in my blu ray player to watch if the season is right. However, while those movies are undoubtedly entertaining, there is a certain charm to Major League that somehow makes me enjoy it even more. Maybe it’s the sight of Snipes having a blast as Willie-Mayes Hayes, the ‘now you see him, now you don’t’ center fielder. This was years before Snipes was a star, and what he brings to this role is something that future portrayals tried, but couldn’t even come close to matching (maybe we’ll get there. I haven’t decided). Maybe it’s the highly entertaining, yet endearing portrayal of constant gum chewing catcher Jake Taylor by Berenger. Berenger, while an excellent, credible actor (he did earn his Academy Award nomination for Platoon), has always played roles that if they weren’t unlikable jerks, were real downers. Here, he seems to be having fun. And, his love triangle storyline involving Russo sucked me right in (I can hear the calls of sucker from here). Or, was it watching major star on the rise Sheen (who was a minor league pitcher and at the time this was filmed, pitched 85 MPH) play Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn, the ‘juvenile delinquent’ called in who can pitch 100 MPH but can’t control it. If this is not a role taylor made for him, then I don’t know what is. What’s great about Major League is that it is all of these things combined. All of these plot points, along with the hilarity that ensues, makes for one of the most entertaining and hilarious movies to ever be about baseball, or sports period.
A lot of this comes from the script and direction from one David S. Ward. To make a movie about how dreadful the Indians are, while also creating hilarious and involving sub stories, is a pretty grand undertaking, . Ward, who had just written the two Sting films and Cannery Row at this point, really brings his A-game to both the page and the screen. Not only are the comedy bits hilarious (the scene where all the characters from the team are introduced remains one of the most side splitting scenes of any sports movie period), but he is doing a lot of set ups here too. For example, the shot from the field at the very first game of the season and the crowd barely making a sound, while used for comedic effect at the time, is used later on for dramatic effect where at the very last game of the season, the very same on the field shot is used. Only this time the crowd is present and ROARING their approval. Also, Lynn dropping the line that Taylor has never read Moby Dick, only to have a shot of him later by the plane and reading, what else, Moby Dick (only in comic book form) is a set up. Are both these set ups cheesy? Of course. But, the way Ward pays them all off is a trait that many directors could use to better their films.
Of course, while the film mainly focuses on Taylor’s determination to win back his ex girlfriend, this movie would be nothing without the semectrics that come out of the situations on the field and in the clubhouse. You have feuds from every which way, from veteran pitcher Harris feuding with heavy fast ball hitting but curve ball whiffing Cerano (Haysbert, years before he would be in trying to convince how good hands All State has in their commercials). The feud of Vaughn and the Bernsen portrayed veteran third baseman Roger Dorn (come to think of it, Dorn feuds with everybody). Also, the idea of adding Uecker to the mix was brilliant. His constant borage of one liners (“he crushes one toward South America,” and, of course, “jjjuuuusstt a bit outside”) are funny and endearing. When he is calling the final game of the year, you cannot help but root for those Indians, as the way we as viewers have survived the season the Indians endure is through his cantor, and his enthusiasm is contagious.
There are some definite problems with the movie. One, the main conflict of the story (the Indians have to finish dead last for their newly anointed bitchy ex showgirl of an owner can move them out of Cleveland) is taken care of a little more than halfway into the movie. However, like any good script does, it does so in an entertaining way. Various scenes of games are dissolved into newspaper articles, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Ms Phelps (Whitton)has pieces of clothes representing how many wins they need peeled off section by section. But, it is really all about the players, and by the time we journey through Vaughn’s wildness and Hayes’ evolution into a good leadoff man, and the Indians’ manager Brown’s (Gammon) speeches of where the sports writers can stick their predictions, we are on their side. And, during the course of the final game, Vaughn is sitting in the dugout restlessly waiting to get in. We as an audience are wanting to see it as well. And, when Wild Thing is heard blaring through the stadium, I dare you to not sing along. Ward’s brilliant way of making these predictable plot points endearing to the story and our natural way of rooting for the underdogs is a credit to how he has crafted his film. I would highly recommend, if you are stuck in a day where your team loses a game, to throw Major League on. It just might make you smile and root along with the Indians on their journey. Or, at the very least, find out the name of that pretty girl who asks you to sleep with her.
4 out of 5