Major League [retro review]

“Yeah, we’ve got uniforms and everything. It’s really great.”

The Scoop: 1989 R, directed by David S. Ward and starring Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger and Wesley Snipes

Tagline: A comedy with bats and balls.

Summary Capsule: Down-and-out Cleveland Indians overcome their loser-ness to win it all.

Justin’s Rating: Smack me a ball or two.

Justin’s Review: Remember those incredibly stupid SAT word association questions? The ones that most definitely helped you out later in life, just as long as you worked for the SAT team making those snotty tests? Well, here’s one of those for you to figure out:

16. Major League : Baseball as
(a) The Replacements : Football
(b) The Mighty Ducks : Hockey
(c) Harlem Globetrotters : Basketball
(d) Back To School : High Diving
(e) Mutant Reviewers From Hell : Gopher Chasing

I think a lot of people share my weakness for sports comedies that take a collection of colorful nutjobs, throw them together (defying all logic), and watch them overcome all odds (549:1) to triumph over those mean, bad professional players. Well, it’s entertaining if predictable, and there’s always a chance we get to see the team mascot involved in a fight.

With the exception of a pretty lame romance subplot, Major League nails all the right spots in making a great sports comedy. The Cleveland Indians (before they stopped sucking) are not only in a bad slump, they’re also in Ohio. If you’ve ever had the extreme pleasure of living in the flat, mind-draining suburbs of the Buckeye State as I have, you know that it’s only a half-step up from being condemned to life in New Jersey. So it comes as no surprise that the team’s owner (a cruel, heartless wench) wants to relocate the team to Miami, and the only way to do this is to make the club place dead last for the year. Instead of say, trading for the entire Chicago Cubs team, she instead signs on a bunch of deadbeats, has-beens, and overly strange individuals.

During Spring Training we realize that all of these players have hidden potential, just covered by a crippling flaw. The Cuban batter, who prays to a voodoo god named Jobu, can slam them out of the park, just as long as he’s thrown nothing but fastballs. Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) can run like hell, he just hits like… well, like bad. Catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger, king of “we couldn’t find anyone else for this part” roles) has knees that are barely holding up. And star rookie pitcher Rickey “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has an incredible arm with no control whatsoever. To say the least, it’s a blast to watch.

What makes Major League work where so many other sports comedies don’t is that it has no delusions about being something grander than it is. Again, aside from Jake’s stupid romance with Rene Russo, there’s no larger drama involving the spirit of the game, kidnapped felons, kidnapping felons, or long, boring games that get too enamored with showing us actual gameplay. No, Major League uses baseball as a train, chugging us off to vistas of victory, to landscapes of laughs, to countries of comedy. All the best and funniest scenes are the little bits, and they’re jam packed in here. With actual jam.

It’s extremely quotable and about one of the best bets for appeasing your hunger for something funny. Baseball hasn’t been this funny since Lt. Drebin took the field in The Naked Gun, and it’s thanks to a great cast and smart jokes. One of the scenes that always makes me laugh is when a pampered player complains to the coach that doing pushups “are prohibited” in his contract. The wise, crackpot coach’s reply? To put the contract on the ground, unzip his pants, and let the good times fly. There are also a number of happy, cheering scenes, among the best of which is when Wild Thing takes the field in the final game to the tune of his namesake’s song. The stands erupt, the scoreboard lights up, Charlie Sheen’s glasses stare death in the face. It’s almost the best moment in movie history, but Darth Vader had to Force choke that guy in Star Wars, so Wild Thing’s entrance is demoted to like #3 or something. But it’s still good.

I think that the last thing that makes Major League so likable is that it’s what we wish baseball was actually like. Instead of over-salaried, over-pimped players sucking the joy out of the game, here are a bunch of losers who actually like what they do, and it shows. Major Hilarity. Major Gags. Major League.

"Winning, duh."

Intermission!

  • The Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series since 1948. However, in both 1995 and 1997 they won the American League championship (against Seattle and Baltimore, respectively). In 1989, when this film came out, they hadn’t made the playoffs in 45 years. Ouch.
  • Most of the shots of Willie Mays Hayes stealing bases are in slow motion, supposedly because Wesley Snipes was actually not very fast at all. Charlie Sheen admitted to taking steroids during filming and actually got his fastball into the mid-80s, but the mound was also moved closer to the plate to make his pitches look faster.
  • An alternate ending revealed that team owner Rachel Phelps actually wanted the team to succeed all along. On the verge of bankruptcy, she knew only a winning season could save the club, so she made herself into a villain that the entire team could unite against. Test audiences disliked this ending, preferring that Phelps be an actual villain, so it was dropped.
  • The home game scenes were filmed at Milwaukee’s County Stadium, where Bob Uecker, who portrays announcer Harry Doyle, called games for the Brewers and played for the old Milwaukee Braves, before they moved to Atlanta.
  • The exterior stadium shots use Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, which is no longer in use.
  • In the playoff game against the Yankees, #45 of the Yanks strikes out, and another #45 is immediately thrown out at first base.

Groovy Quotes

Hayes: Vaughn, get the stewardess. I need one of those bags.
Vaughn: There aren’t any stewardesses.
Hayes: Oh! I wonder if there are any pilots.

Jake: I’m with the Indians
Woman at Party: Here, in Cleveland? I didn’t know we still had a team!
Jake: Yeah, we’ve got uniforms and everything. It’s really great.

Hayes: The American Express Card. Don’t steal home without it.

Hayes: I’m Willie Mays Hayes. I hit like Mays, and I run like Hayes.

Donovan: Vaughn’s been looking good out there today.
Rachel Phelps: Don’t worry, he’ll blow it.

Board Member 1: I’ve never heard of half of these guys, and the ones I do know are way past their prime.
Donovan: Most of these guys never had a prime.
Board Member 2: This guy here is dead.
Rachel Phelps: Cross him off then.

Harry Doyle: Remember, fans, Tuesday is Die Hard Night. Free admission for anyone who was actually alive the last time the Indians won the pennant.

Cerrano: Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigars, rum. He will come.
Harris: You know you might think about taking Jesus Christ as your savior instead of fooling around with all this stuff.
Jake: Harris!
Cerrano: Ah, Jesus. I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.
Harris: You trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?

First Baseman: Where you going, Meat?
Hayes: ’bout ninety feet.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Major League II
  • Hot Shots!
  • The Naked Gun
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4 Comments

  1. As much fun as it is to deride test audiences and altering movies to suit their whims, in this case it came out all right. That alternate ending sounds really lame.

    And as a point of interest, according to the April 1994 issue of Smithsonian, this movie was responsible for a French village going baseball crazy.

  2. Pingback: The Mighty Ducks « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  3. Pingback: Weekend at Bernie’s | Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  4. Pingback: The Replacements | Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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