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Sunday Classics Matinee: Major League

by Robb Reel

There are a lot of different ways a movie can be great.

Maybe the script is exceptional or it’s filled with outstanding acting by a stellar cast.  Maybe it has innovative direction, lush music or cinematography so breathtaking that you can’t take your eyes off the screen.  Maybe it possesses a combination of all these things.

Sometimes, though, a movie can be great just because it makes you laugh yourself stupid.

And so I give you: Major League.

The Cleveland Indians are terrible – that set up required less of a suspension of disbelief in 1989, before the Tribe went to two World Series in the 90s and stayed competitive since – and getting worse.  When the owner dies, his trophy wife, Rachel Phelps [Margaret Whitton], inherits the team and schemes to move it to Miami – again, this is 1989, before the Marlins existed.  She has found a clause in the lease with the city that allows the team to go if attendance drops too low.

So she attempts to put together a roster that is truly terrible.  The list of players she wants to invite to Spring Training is all but a joke.  “This guy’s dead,” says one front-office flack, to which Phelps flippantly replies, “Cross him off then.”

She collects a misfit, motley bunch to make up her roster.  It’s the Hollywood formula of gathering an ensemble.  The unknown quantity who appears out of nowhere is Willie Mays Hayes, paralleled in casting relative newcomer Wesley Snipes, who dazzles everyone at just the right moment.  Roger Dorn [Corbin Bernsen] is the entitled prima donna who finally comes through when his teammates need him most.  Future president [24] and insurance pitchman Dennis Haysbert is virtually unrecognizable as Cuban defector and voodoo aficionado Pedro Cerrano, who finally hits the curve ball and gets Jobu that refill.

The once-great, seemingly washed-up, grizzled veteran seeking a last shot at glory takes the form of Jake Taylor [Tom Berenger].  The erstwhile All-Star has languished in the Mexican League and must will his aging body to make one more go-round.  That applies to both baseball and life as he attempts to rekindle his lost romance with Lynn [Rene Russo].

And then there’s Rick Vaughn, whose redemption is a little more literal after playing in the California Penal League.  After two dramatic turns for director Oliver Stone [Platoon and Wall Street], Charlie Sheen shows a lot more of his Tiger Blood as Vaughn.  He’s too wild on and off the mound yet finds his control to save the team in the end.  Together, they all end up #Winning.

Look, this film is not Citizen Kane but it’s not supposed to be.  It’s writer/director David S. Ward giving us 107 minutes of silliness, but it’s epic silliness with some of the most quotable lines in recent history.  This is one of those  that, if I land on it while I am flipping channels, I simply must watch it.  Despite the real-life Indians improvement, the film holds up really well after a quarter century.  That’s right, Major League came out almost 25 years ago… when I was in high school… and that makes me feel old.

I didn’t believe ol’ Eddie Harris [Chelcie Ross] when he told me that I would eventually need to put snot on the ball.

I do now.

Someday you will, too.

I've got a guy on the other line about a set of white-walls; I'll talk to you later.