*½/**** Image A Sound B+
starring Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna, Chauncey Leopardi
screenplay by David Mickey Evans & Robert Gunter
directed by David Mickey Evans
by Walter Chaw Playing like a particularly sickening distillation between A Christmas Story, Stand By Me, The War, and the dangerously insipid TV show "The Wonder Years", David Mickey Evans's The Sandlot is a tired coming-of-age retread that mashes baseball, puppy lust, group vomiting, stepfathers, and fear of giant dogs and black people into an amateurishly- written and directed, period pop-scored nostalgia piece. Its messages of understanding, anti-bullying, befriending losers, and pretending the fat kid stuffing Ho-hos into his mouth doesn't make you sick are as timeless as they are trite. When an annual Fourth of July sandlot game unfolds in slow-motion against a backdrop of fireworks and Ray Charles's "America," all you need know of Evans's love for the easy manipulative gimmick is revealed in one broad stroke.
The Sandlot focuses on Scotty (David Guiry)--the archetypical simpering little nerd with so little physical coordination that his ability to walk is something of a miracle--and his attempt to assimilate into a group of lovable oddball rejects. Initiated into a group begun by heroic Ben (Mike Vitar), Scotty chews tobaccy, goes on over-nighters in amazingly well-constructed and cavernous treehouses, and learns how to catch and throw while dodging the neighbourhood bogey: a ball-hawking junkyard dog named "The Beast." After numerous minor "quite a pickle"s narrated by a drawling Arliss Howard (doing his best Daniel Stern), Scotty and company get themselves in the biggest pickle of all: They lose a prized Babe Ruth ball belonging to Scotty's stepdad (Denis Leary) over the fence.
While it has its moments, The Sandlot is treacle of the first order. It's redolent with cutesy pull-whistle sound effects and so desperate to be a high quality rip-off instead of a cut-rate one that it does everything with a sweaty overkill that engenders more irritation than affection. The kid actors are fine but asked to be little more than slapstick variations on the same old same old: the myopic one, the morbidly obese one, the one destined for bigger things, and the future writer.
If you grew up in Rockwell's American utopia, you could probably argue that The Sandlot evokes something of the halcyon surreality of the cult of childhood, but it's such a dedicatedly grating pre-pubescent scream-fest that it's always a heartbeat away from deserving to be shut off and sealed in a yellow barrel. Despite the cameo James Earl Jones makes late in the game (no pun intended), if you're in the market for a movie about fathers, sons, and the national pastime, best just to stick with that other sepia-tinged baseball reverie in which Jones appears--Field of Dreams, of course.
The Sandlot comes to DVD via the good graces of Fox in a handsome 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that looks fantastic. (A pan-and-scan version of similar quality is on the flipside.) The colours are amazingly bright and shadows are well-modulated; the abovementioned fireworks sequence is remarkable in terms of clarity and no edge-enhancement or compression problems exhibit themselves. In other words, image quality is consistent and consistently excellent. The Dolby 5.1 track showcases an adequate mix. Dialogue and other sounds are reproduced with sharpness and a superb clarity. The presentation is rounded out by a six-minute by-the-numbers featurette that's actually more annoying to watch than the film itself, a remastered trailer, and seven TV spots. Originally published: March 7, 2002.
THE SANDLOT 2
½*/**** Image B- Sound B Extras D
starring Max Lloyd-Jones, James Willson, Samantha Burton, Brett Kelly
written and directed by David Mickey Evans
by Walter Chaw There's so much warm A Christmas Story/Stand By Me/"The Wonder Years" narration in David Mickey Evans's The Sandlot 2 that ten minutes in I felt as though it was boring a hole through my brain like in that one episode of "Night Gallery". Its collection of grotesques fighting for the right to play a little stick on the titular patch of dirt includes this time around an African-American kid who dresses like Jimi Hendrix and makes the Black Power fist a lot, a deaf kid and his thyroid interpreter, and a Shaun Cassidy-looking kid who likes rockets. They join the usual suspects of disgusting fat kid, underdeveloped 'tard, beautiful Aryan hero, and spunky girl--all of them engaging in mugging, yelling, and rolling their eyes in a way that suggests they can hear the invasive score that bloats every moment of the picture like botulism does a sausage. And The Sandlot 2's forced feminist text doesn't ease the passing, either: When Gloria Steinem becomes the centerpiece of a pissing contest between towheaded hero David (Max Lloyd-Jones) and cast-iron proto-bitch Hayley Goodfairer (Samantha Burton), it's well past time to call it on account of bullshit.
A caricaturist would draw stink lines emanating from this direct-to-video stillbirth. Prepubescent love? Underdog sports intrigue with loathsome rival team in nice uniforms? Horny gimp stealing a smooch from a kissing-booth hottie to an inappropriate vintage soundtrack? Open ass, insert fist, as they say. Consider the moment where David jumps to Hayley's defense during a baseball game, screaming that it's never okay to hit a girl--then consider how that moment succinctly undermines every single pro-feminist moment of this fucking mess. Practise what you preach or confess that you duck and cover the very first chance you have of caving to populist convention. It wasn't a good idea to make this about girl power, and it's a worse idea to turn your mighty girl hero into a quivering damsel at the earliest possible moment. I'm reminded of the "ladies first" sketch from "Free to Be... You & Me": There are countless ways to mark women as weaker, stupider, vainer, more in need of rescue from their own ideals--but why start 'em so young? Better to just leave poor Hayley the way we meet her, as a Lolita peeking over her sunglasses in a little two-piece hottie outfit while director Evans pans from her feet to her head. There's your women's lib.
The story proper concerns one fateful summer in the narrator's life in which he loses something precious over the fence of lower-class Mr. Mertle's (James Earl Jones, who deserves but never chooses better) junkyard, where an evil dog called "The Great Fear" lives. Will the lightning-fast Latino retrieve it? He would if he weren't collecting sweet residuals from the first film, leaving the minor larceny and trespassing to this generation's lovable freakshow as they try to tunnel under the fence, lower a cat down on a harness as bait, and generally behave in that delightful way that's only delightful in movies. I've seen a lot worse than The Sandlot 2, but why quibble?
A 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is the flipside to a pan-and-scan DVD presentation of The Sandlot 2, both of which exhibit almost exactly the same flat, blooming colours and, particularly in the daytime sequences, the same subtle patina of overexposure haloing and bleed. It's sloppy (moiré patterns and banding are in abundance), but I promise you that anyone watching this disc--or, God forbid, buying it--won't care. Ditto the DD 5.1 audio, which features minimal channel separation but soul-crushingly clear dialogue. A film-length commentary by Evans (who, despite being involved in an ever-deepening river of crap since helming the original, has his entire career neatly encapsulated by the two Sandlot films) provides such indispensable nuggets as the fact that a BMX stunt rider ("whose name escapes me") performs the stunt riding during the film's extraordinarily boring bike chase sequence and that "this dog could really run!" What truly grates, though, is Evans's penchant for punctuating almost every scene with "I love this scene!" or "I love this Dutch angle!" or "This is one of my favourite transitions here, it's really good!" and, my personal fave, "This is another of those 'I got you now' moments." There are limits to taking pride in your work even when it's good; if you're this proud of The Sandlot 2, you're well on the road to a straitjacket and electroshock.
Meanwhile, "The Sandlot Kids: Then and Now" (10 mins.) pulls a Michael Apted on the marginal heroes of the inexplicably-admired first film, now ten years older and still talking about The Sandlot. Bases covered: the camaraderie, the awesomeness, the fun-ness. Evans quotes Mark Twain to his own great delight as he waxes nauseating about how amazing the children were, how complicated was the editing process to put the final glow on that masterpiece, and how deeply personal the experience was. Clips from the first film confirm that it is, indeed, superior to its sequel--which does nothing to relieve the conundrum introduced by Evans's commentary, in which he affirms that The Sandlot 2 might very well be the best movie ever made. Rounding out the widescreen side: a forced PSA on the evils of buying pirated movies (hilarious not only because it's inept, but also because it decorates a DVD that nobody in China is pirating); a "Backyard Baseball Demo" for your DVD-ROM; and The Sandlot 2's trailer.
The fullscreen side reveals a couple more extras (no commentary, however, though the same PSA is recycled), starting with "Back to the Lot" (9 mins.), a disturbing making-of on-the-set junket piece that again sexualizes little Samantha Burton amid having each of the kids profess how much they like their creepy scout-leader. Jones discusses archetype in the way a revered stage actor discusses his most memorable screen role being the voice of a tall white guy in a black suit without actually saying it, while Evans runs at the mouth in his nothing way. The whole shooting match finishes with "Our Sandlot Days" (9 mins.), wherein ex-MLB players Mark Gubicza and Dave Winfield remembering their days as kids participating in the national pastime now dominated by Asians and Dominicans precisely because these guys' nostalgic reminiscences of endless summers hitting the cover off little Timmy's ball are relics of a different time, before sexier sports began capturing the imagination of America's youth. It's a boring piece but, tellingly, it's the highlight of this shipwreck. Alas, that's a different conversation for a better movie--one that isn't part of the problem, for instance. Originally published: June 14, 2005.