“Well, at least the bird survived.”
Who cares? It’s a rat with wings.”
With spring training winding down, it’s only right that yours truly takes a look at a baseball flick. Stepping into the batter’s box today? Major League II. After dethroning the Yankees in the one game playoff the prior year, but falling to the Chicago White Sox in the American League Championship Series, the Cleveland Indians have championship aspirations in the new baseball year. And why wouldn’t they? All of their key players have returned, including speedy Willie Mays Hayes (Omar Epps), veteran catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), mysterious slugger Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) and bad-boy heat-thrower “Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen).
The taste of newfound, unforeseen success can ruin some people or teams. Father Time is catching up to Jake, Pedro’s found a new inner peace not provided by Jobu, Willie is convinced he’s a power hitter now, and Ricky’s focused on prolonging his career and not throwing the heat he’s known for. It all adds up to a very rough start, and to recapture the magic found in last year’s run, the Tribe must rally around each other.
When great sports movies are discussed, the original Major League from 1989 always feels like it gets overlooked, combining extremely hilarious and quotable dialogue with superbly directed and realistic baseball action. To many, yours truly included, it is a home run. The same cannot be said for Major League II. While not as bad as the five percent on Rotten Tomatoes may leave one to believe, this one absolutely comes with less high heat than its predecessor.
In essence, ML2 isn’t much different than what came before it from a story sense. Cleveland stinks bad, but eventually turns it around right in time, with the only true difference being that the Indians in this movie are supposed to be good from the get-go. The key problem is the complete lack in pacing and build as the team transforms from worst team in Major League Baseball to a contender. I hate doing this constant comparison, but it is hard not to. ML1 showed Cleveland as a bad team in the first half of the movie, but a potentially talented one here and there with enough flashes to make the viewer believe in the impending turnaround.
With ML2, the team is just flat out putrid with no indication that they will pull it together, and when they finally do “get it together,” its less organic because it just sort of happens, dulling the pennant chase as a result. It is very forced, as it was hard to buy that the particular turning point was the catalyst for the reversal in fortune. Speaking of forced, much more attention is given to Sheen’s character in a love triangle subplot with two women who add nothing whatsoever. With the increased focus given to the Wild Thing, the story can feel less about the team and more about Vaughn, which isn’t a good thing.
Plot withstanding, Major League II doesn’t strike out because it provides a riot of laughs, as much as, if not more than, the first. The story isn’t as tight as a sports tale; it’s better to view ML2 as a baseball farce, dependent on slapstick and ridiculousness (rated R in the first, PG! in the second), from standing up on a wall to catch a sure home run, to loading the bases one out away from the World Series to get redemption on a nemesis. Sure, the humor is pretty lowbrow, but yours truly would be telling a boldface lie if I didn’t laugh heartily.
Part of that is due to the bulk of the cast returning. Sheen, Haysbert, Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, etc. are all back and have the same solid rapport as before. Sadly, Wesley Snipes does not reprise his role of Hayes, played here by Omar Epps. Epps tries top hard to be cool and effortless, and what came easy for Snipes can’t be said for his replacement.
On another note, it is nice to see so many of the supporting characters outshine the main ones. As far as sports villains goes, Jack Parkman (David Keith) should be up there with the Shooter McGavin’s of the world. He’s every stereotype that an jerk athlete is made up of: Smug, selfish, and entitled. Randy Quaid has an notable role as a heckling, foul-mouthed fan, Bob Uecker gets more screentime being the unfiltered broadcast voice of the Indians in Harry Doyle, and catcher Rube Baker is pretty much a country bumpkin rube playing baseball. All four roles are over-the-top and lack in subtlety, but they certainly are entertaining, and quotable.
If the Major League movies were a pitch repertoire, the first one would be a fastball, and the second one would be more like a secondary pitch, say a slider or a change-up (let’s not talk about what the third is until next year). Major League II lacks the drama and pure baseball beauty of the first, but carries a bit more comedy with it, even if it is dumber.
Photo credits go to cineplex.com, seattlesportsnet.com, and espn.com.
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