' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...Major League

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Some Drivel On...Major League

To a modern sports fan, the premise of 1989’s “Major League” – the Cleveland Indians (almost) win the World Series – can’t seem so far-fetched. After all, the Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series last year. They might win it this year. They are fresh off winning 22 games in a row, an American League record, and Cleveland itself, a city famed for its sports failure, has been trending the other direction for a while now, with perhaps the preeminent basketballer of his era leading the city’s Cavaliers to the NBA championship a year ago in a Game 7 worthy of fiction. But if “Major League” might sound like a preposterous tall tale to our 2017 ears, it is to the movie’s immense credit how quickly it puts you in the headspace of the late 80s Cleve by employing an opening montage set to Randy Newman’s “Burn On”, in which he hails Cleveland as “a city of light” simply because the Cuyahoga River once famously caught on fire. This inciting montage is The Cleve at its most grimily industrial, emitting a palpable beaten up air, where its citizens, as we see sprinkled throughout, are born to believe the worst about their Indians. The finished version of the film did not include writer/director David S. Ward’s actual opening as penned in his screenplay which states: “TITLES END and we WIDEN to reveal that the black b.g. (background) is actually the sludge-clogged surface of the Cuyahoga River.” Damn, would that have been a curtain raiser.

This deliberately unattractive opening then is the perfect connector to the movie’s overriding plot point – that is, new Indians owner Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) wants to get the hell out of Cleveland and move the team to the warm temperatures of Miami. To do so, she must ensure the team’s attendance falls below 800,000 for the season which will trigger the organization’s escape clause from their lease with the city. To ruin the attendance, she will ruin the team, assembling a patchwork squad of washed-up has-beens and hapless rookies, the requisite underdogs who must and will rise up. And Ward, who penned “The Sting”, which was a fine example of cinematically putting a team together, does just as exemplary of a job of putting a team together here, outfitting his mostly loveable losers with enough personality to see us from start to finish.

The glue holding them together is the late James Gammon, playing manager Lou Brown, a character introduced by taking a phone call from the Indians GM not from the dugout of some farm team but at the Toledo Tire World he’s overseeing. The befits both Cleveland’s working roots and the character’s, magnified even more by Lou’s reply when he’s offered the managerial job. “I don’t know…..,” sighs Gammon, communicating a man for whom this role wouldn’t be his Last Best Chance but Just Another Job. It’s the best line reading in show, which is saying something considering all manner of wry line readings delivered by Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle, the team’s play-by-play man who knows he’s been served cold soup trying to make do.

The cast, in fact, is kind of a throwback to another time too, when Wesley Snipes was a cocky, charismatic star and Charlie Sheen could be kookily charming simply by sort of squinting and acting aloof. He’s so charming, in fact, that he floats above Ward’s attempts to shoehorn in some at-odds nonsense with aging third baseman Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) near the end. (His climactic walk to the mound from the bullpen remains as timeless as the song that escorts him and gives him his nickname.) Then there is Tom Berenger, nominated for Oscar just a few years before, for whom “Major League” sort of unofficially marked a departure from his 80s stardom, appropriately playing injured, washed-up Jake Taylor who, unlike Lou Brown, is pining for one last shot at glory. He also, however, is trying to get back with his ex-wife Lynn (Rene Russo, receiving no funny lines), a subplot that’s less woeful (they are both too good of actors) than kind of weird. It’s weird not just because Lynn is, as she must be, about to marry some zero she would never marry anyway, meaning her entire existence hinges on being with a man, but more for the way that Jake keeps just appearing in her apartment, following and then, well, sort of breaking and entering……at least, a little? Sure, sure, you say, she wants him there, and maybe she does, but damn man, is it uncomfortable, unless you dismiss breaking and entering as P.C. horse hockey.

The subplot is also there to demonstrate how one cannot win on the baseball diamond if he is not also winning at life, which is laughably untrue, of course, but also entirely unnecessary in the face of Rachel Phelps employing these losers to try and move the team. This is because owners, nasty, narcissistic owners, have been ruining baseball, and sports, for eons now, treating players like commodities, treating fans like foolishly loyal ATMs. In “Major League”, however, the Cleveland Indians become a conduit for the city itself to stand up and stick it to their corporate overlord. That is a happy ending.

1 comment:

mercatiwriter@aol.com said...

I love Charlie sheen in this movie.
I own this movie!!
I won the soundtrack to this movie!