"Major League" is this year's "Bull Durham," by way of "The Natural."
The plot, centered on a real-life team - the Cleveland Indians - is a zany fantasy written and directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter David Ward ("The Sting,"
"The Milagro Beanfield War"), who made his directing debut a few years back with the underrated "Cannery Row."
The story has the owner of the Indians dying, leaving the team to his mercenary wife (Margaret Whitton, the boss's sexy wife in "The Secret of My Success"). But she doesn't like Cleveland, so she figures to reduce attendance at the games to a level so low she will be allowed to relocate the team to Florida, where she can become a society matron.
How? By hiring players so inept they chase fans away.
Among those she recruits are Tom Berenger, as an over-the-hill catcher with bad knees; Charlie Sheen, an ex-con with a powerful pitching arm but absolutely no control; Corbin Bernsen (Arnie Becker on TV's "L.A. Law"), a third baseman so concerned about his future as a TV pitchman that he lets the ball go by so it won't damage his looks; Wesley Snipes, as "Willie Mays" Hayes, who thinks he's all speed as he tries to set base-stealing records; and Dennis Haysbert, a first baseman who uses voodoo to influence his batting average.
Needless to say, the team is lousy and loses game after game, just as Whitton hoped. And just as predictably, they soon get a shot in the arm that prompts them to play better and bring Cleveland out of the cellar.
The latter prompts Whitton to put hardships on the team, hoping to break that winning spirit, but, of course, the Indians endure to the end, if you will.
Plot is secondary to just about everything else in a movie like this, and "Major League" has none of the depth of "Bull Durham," despite a similar bevy of oddball characters as players and Rene Russo in a small role that quite remarkably resembles Susan Sarandon's. But "Major League" is funny, and that makes it work.
Berenger has the nominal lead in this ensemble piece, but most of the laughs go to Charlie Sheen, very good in a deadpan performance as the punk pitcher who learns discipline and control the hard way. And some of the supporting players, including Snipes, Haysbert, James Gammon as the team manager and Bob Uecker as the Indians' goofy radio announcer, get more than their share of yucks, as well.
If you're looking for a sexy, funny baseball movie with depth of character and a thought-provoking examination of love, rent "Bull Durham." But if you just want some good laughs, "Major League" should fill the bill.
"Major League" is rated R, primarily for language, though there is some locker-room nudity, sex, vulgarity and violence.