**/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras C
starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Bob Uecker
written and directed by David S. Ward
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover Major League doesn't have clichés, it is clichés. The film is a collection of sports- and slob-comedy riffs designed for maximum familiarity and a minimum of creative fat. What you see is what you get--and if you don't like what you see, there are legions of sports fans behind you who will, and have, to the extent of justifying a "Wild Thing Edition" DVD covered in Astroturf. Of course, sometimes we don't want anything beyond obvious underdogs obviously set up to obvious victory, and if you're in the mood for such faits accomplis then you could do a lot worse than to suckle at this comforting cinematic teat. But for the most part, lovers of cinema are warned to not get their hopes too high, while fans of crackling dialogue are advised to seek their kicks elsewhere.
The Dean Wormer of this creaky enterprise is Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), an ex-showgirl who just inherited the long-losing Cleveland Indians from her dead husband. She'd rather pack up the team and relocate them to the warmer climes of Miami, but a contractual obligation means the games have to earn dismally low attendance to do so, prompting her to hire a bunch of has-beens and no-hopers to rank the team dead last. This can only do one thing: provoke a bunch of vulgar losers to flout authority and prove the boss-lady wrong. Thus manager Lou Brown (James Gammon) must lead the likes of bum-kneed Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), narcissistic rich boy Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), and nearsighted punk pitcher Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) to eventual, unlikely victory.
If you can't imagine how Major League ends, you haven't been within shouting distance of a movie since Animal House opened. Naturally, the supposedly-lovable misfits call the front office's bluff, first to salvage their careers, then to flip the bird to the proverbial Man. Naturally, Whitton is used in a sexist manner as a heartless bitch-goddess whom the boys are naturally free to debase. There's also a black Cuban player named Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) who looms threateningly when he's not practicing voodoo; and what lowbrow comedy would be complete without a pair of Japanese groundskeepers spouting subtitled expletives? With designated hero Jake aching to win back Lynn (Rene Russo), the woman he loved and lost years ago, the underdog paradigm is tediously complete.
Prefab as the movie is, I'm surprised I didn't resent it more than I did. Films of this ilk usually draw arrows to the kick-to-the-balls stuff, milk the pathos to grotesque, Tommy Boy proportions, and leer over their ethnic stereotypes to the point of unpleasant cruelty. Writer-director David S. Ward gets in and gets out without fussing over the details--he plays his cards without bluffing and that's all. Which doesn't make Major League a good movie, but it does make it one without delusions of grandeur--rather refreshing in these days of pretentious little-engine-that-could sports intrigues and "archetypal" fantasy hoo-has. I absolutely would not recommend it as anything beyond a stopgap while channel surfing, but considering the depths to which the genre can sink, there are worse ways to mark time between now and "Desperate Housewives".
The 1.85:1, 16x9-enhanced image on Paramount's feature-loaded reissue of Major League ekes more fine detail than you'd expect from a second-tier '80s title while eradicating the print schmutz that plagued previous editions. Unlike a lot of transfers, which make the colours glow to the detriment of the original, more subdued palette, this one gives us a picture that's just as dull as what you saw in theatres. A victory, of sorts. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix is pretty good: though not especially well-articulated, it funnels a nice amount of crowd noise through the surrounds and boasts a bit of oomph in the subwoofer when the inevitable stadium reprise of The Troggs' "Wild Thing" arrives.
Extras begin with a film-length commentary by Ward and producer Chris Chesser. Their dialogue is almost entirely bereft of technical/aesthetic information, instead zeroing in on how great the performers are, where they shot (Milwaukee, as it turns out), which actors were good athletes, and the amount of time (five weeks, apparently) they had Charlie Sheen. They're a great pair of guys, but the track is not much to speak of. "My Kinda Team: Making Major League" (23 mins.) is mostly a love-in for the cast, who reminisce about their favourite parts and blow the film's resemblance to actual baseball way out of proportion. Again, little is said about the creative side of things, although there's some discussion of which real players were composited into various characters, and cast members touch on the frisson of hearing the 25,000 screaming extras for the climactic pennant game.
"A Major League Look at Major League" (15 mins.) is an even more maudlin clip featuring actual Cleveland Indians professing their love for the movie as well as pointing out the veracity of the film's baseball types. They claim it's mostly accurate; as a non-sports fan, I'll have to take their word for it. "Bob Uecker: Just A Bit Outside" (12 mins.) finds the Hall-of-Famer reflecting on his much-loved role in the movie: he relates how much he got to ad-lib and how much resemblance the movie bears to his actual broadcasting record. Again, sentimentality reigns, but there are blurry deleted scenes here that fans may want to see. An alternate ending with an intro by Chesser (4 mins.) reveals that Whitton's character was to have secretly wanted the team to win all along; unfortunately, the audience was gung-ho for hating her at this point, so they reshot accordingly. "A Tour of Cerrano's Locker" (2 mins.) has 1988 footage of Dennis Haysbert demonstrating the accurate and not-so-accurate elements of the voodoo shrine in his locker. (For what it's worth, he does it in character.) A photo gallery rounds things out; trailers for Tommy Boy, Airplane!, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off cue up on startup.
106 minutes; R; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French DD 2.0 (Mono); CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Paramount