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Major League: Wild Thing Edition

When Major League was released in the spring of 1989, its premise — that the Cleveland Indians could challenge for an American League pennant — was considered only slightly more plausible than a band of high school students waging effective guerrilla warfare against the entire Soviet military. At the time, the Indians were at what felt like the lowest point in franchise history, and that's saying something for a team that routinely challenged for sole occupation of the American League East cellar. Throughout the '70s and '80s, fans had something resembling a sense of humor regarding the "The Tribe"'s epic futility (they hadn't been to a World Series since 1954, where, after winning a then-record 111 games, they were unceremoniously swept by the New York Giants), but that sense of humor died in 1987 when Sports Illustrated plopped the team's young sluggers Joe Carter and Cory Snyder on its cover, predicting an "Indian Uprising" that would culminate in the team's first American League championship in over 30 years. The Indians responded by finishing dead last with 101 losses. By the time David S. Ward turned up two years later with Major League (1989), its cast a reunion of two Platoon principals (Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger) rounded out by vaguely familiar character actors and outright unknowns, most Indians fans groaned at the possibility of their beloved team failing ignominiously in a whole new medium. But Ward, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Sting (and the non-Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Sting 2), surprised everyone by delivering a charming stand-up-and-cheer yarn about a bunch of has-beens, never-weres and never-gonna-bes recruited to ensure a last place finish — one so dreadful that it will enable the new, rich-bitch owner of the Indians (Margaret Whitton) to move the team to Miami. The misfits include washed-up catcher Jake Taylor (Berenger), spoiled veteran infielder Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernson), voodoo worshipping slugger Pedro Serrano (Dennis Haysbert), ball-doctoring veteran pitcher Charlie Donovan (Charles Cyphers), cocky base-stealer Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) and the recently paroled fireballer Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn (Sheen), whose control issues are a tad too reminiscent of "Nuke" LaLoosh in Bull Durham.

*          *          *

Though Major League shamelessly lifts from the sports movie canon, Ward's affection for the game of baseball and his hometown squad imbues the film with an unexpected warmth. Taylor's attempts to reconnect with the love of his life (Rene Russo) and, most importantly, the no-bull attitude of lifetime minor league manager Lou Brown (an arguably iconic performance from James Gammon), give the audience a genuine rooting interest. It also helps that Ward knows precisely what he's doing with the material; while he's far from niggardly with the locker room humor (with Gammon growling most of the best lines), he is careful to avoid the overt slapstick that would kill 1994's awful Major League II. And when he needs really big laughs, he goes to the legendary Bob Uecker, who plays the team's long-suffering radio announcer, Harry Doyle. It's a tricky balance, one that very few filmmakers ever successfully strike, which explains why Major League has become a syndication favorite over the years. As for Indians fans (which, as you might've guessed by now, includes this reviewer), the movie also represents a turning point in the history of the franchise. In December of 1989, just as Major League was becoming a huge rental success for the home video market, the Indians traded their coveted slugger Joe Carter to the Toronto Blue Jays for Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga. Though Carter would lead the Jays to a couple of World Series championships, the Indians received two crucial building blocks that would help send them to the fall classic in 1995 and 1997. That they would come up excruciatingly short in '97 explains why Indians fans like this reviewer still tear up a little at the end of Ward's valentine to the Cleveland tradition of losing with pride. Paramount presents Major League: Wild Thing Edition in an excellent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a commentary from Ward and producer Chris Chesser, a series of featurettes ("My Kinda Team," "A Major League Look at Major League," "Bob Uecker: Just a Bit Outside"), an alternate ending, "A Tour of Cerrano's Locker," and a photo gallery. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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