The ensemble film "A League of Their Own" takes its cue from the real-life events surrounding the formation of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943, when it appeared that major league baseball might dry up because top players were being drafted during World War II. The result is an enjoyable, if lightweight comic fiction.
The story focuses on the memories of Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) as she arrives at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., (where the league was finally inducted in 1988) and recalls her season with the Rockford Peaches the year the women's league was organized.
The bulk of the movie is comprised of this extended flashback, with the most interesting moments taking place in the first third or so, as we see the recruiting and try-out process, and the organization of teams. We also see examples of how, before the games even begin, these women are exploited by team owners who force them to wear short-skirt uniforms that make them look more like cheerleaders than ballplayers. "How am I going to slide in that outfit," one woman asks. And it isn't long before condescending national press coverage follows, with such pronouncements as, "They've traded their oven mitts for baseball mitts."
The earliest scenes also provide the film's biggest laughs, courtesy of a disgruntled, sarcastic baseball scout who grouses about everything, played to the hilt by Jon Lovitz. At once obnoxious and hilarious, Lovitz is right at home with a character that is much like those he played on "Saturday Night Live," except that this one is better written. He's a riot, but then he's gone all too soon and the film is never quite as funny again.
The primary characters here are Dottie, her highly competitive younger sister Kit (Lori Petty), who feels that she's spent her entire life living in Dottie's shadow, and the team's manager, an over-the-hill, alcoholic former baseball star named Jimmy Dugan, surpris
ingly well-played by Tom Hanks in an offbeat bit of casting.
Dugan is recruited by the owner of the team, candy bar tycoon Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall). Dugan tells Harvey he's not drinking anymore, "because I can't afford to," but, of course, he shows up drunk, surly and only half-awake for the team's first game. So it is up to Dottie, who is married and more mature and level-headed than the other women on the team, to take over and organize things.
Other team members include "All the Way" Mae (Madonna), the team's token "loose girl"; Mae's boisterous best friend Doris (Rosie O'Donnell); a plain-Jane powerhouse hitter named Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh); and assorted other young women with a variety of personal problems that will be resolved by the final reel.
Once the games begin in earnest, the film settles into a predictable story line and in the end, the sisters will resolve their differences, the other players will overcome their problems, and the manager will shed his male chauvinism and start to care about his team.
The entire cast is good, with many of the actresses who play teammates giving a genuine boost to underwritten characters. Special kudos to Davis and Hanks. And someone really missed a bet by not bringing Lovitz back into the picture now and again.
In the end, "A League of Their Own" settles for light humor, soft characterizations and sentimental resolutions. It's bound to find an audience that will be happy with what it has to offer, but it's a shame the real potential here wasn't better tapped by screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("City Slickers," "Parenthood," "Splash") and director Penny Marshall ("Awakenings," "Big").
On the whole, it is a pleasant diversion that should have been more.
"A League of Their Own" is rated PG for a fairly steady stream of vulgar dialogue, along with some profanity and violence.