You've probably noticed that when something catches on in the theater, chances are it will turn up again, either as a new movie or a sequel. If a Hollywood type had painted the Mona Lisa, he would have painted Mona Lisa II, III and IV.
Hollywood's latest infatuation is baseball. The game's been around for, oh, more than a century, but Hollywood seems to have noticed it suddenly like it was just invented. In recent years, there has been "The Natural," "Eight Men Out," "Bull Durham" and "Feeling Home" (even "Naked Gun" had a big baseball scene). Now, at a theater near you, you can see "Major League" and "Field of Dreams."No doubt the success of "The Natural" and "Bull Durham" had much to do with America's pastime parading to the big screen. More importantly for movie goers and sports fans, all of the recent baseball movies, curiously enough, have been critical successes, as well, and "Major League" and "Field of Dreams" are no exceptions. Already they are receiving rave reviews. All of which means there could be more baseball movies in the future.
There are basically two types of baseball movies: 1) those that are about baseball - "Bull Durham," for instance; 2) and those which really aren't about baseball, but merely use the sport as a vehicle for a much grander plot - "Feeling Home" and, to a great extent, "The Natural."
"Major League" fits into category No. 1; "Field of Dreams" belongs in category No. 2.
"Major League" is the adult version of "The Bad News Bears" - or, if you prefer, Rocky Goes to the Ballpark. It's predictable from the first pitch, but it is nevertheless entertaining and very funny, and, like "Rocky," you get sucked into cheering for exactly what you know will happen.
The film - which sports a major league cast of Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen and Bob Uecker - is about an odd collection of raw players nobody else wants. They are hired by the new Cleveland Indians owner, who is trying to keep the team in the cellar so she can move the franchise to Florida.
Well, guess what happens.
The movie gets sidetracked occasionally by the obligatory romance, which in this case is fairly ridiculous (ex-swimming-champ-turned-beautiful-librarian junks wealthy fiance to return to the ex-beau she hasn't seen in years after he wins her heart by reading Moby Dick - the comic book version). Fortunately, back on the diamond, the action is more believable.
The actors make credible baseball players, although all the great camera angles in the world couldn't help actor Chelcie Ross, who plays the starting pitcher even though he pitches like your aunt Gladys at the family reunion. Not so with Sheen, the Wild Thing of a pitcher.
Sheen can really throw. A high school pitcher, Sheen spent four summers at a youth baseball camp and might well have wound up as a college pitcher - he was offered a scholarship - if not for his habit of skipping class for long periods of time. He was finally kicked off the team.
"I had no speed, no stick, no glove," recalls Sheen, philosophically. "All I could do was throw."
Apparently he still can. During production on "Major League," Sheen's fastball was clocked at nearly 85 miles per hour.
The film's producers went to some effort to ensure that the actors would play like players. The cast played baseball together for two weeks before filming began. The pitchers and catchers of course reported several weeks earlier, and were tutored by Steve Yeager, the former Dodger catcher who also appears in the movie.
"We worked with Charlie as though he was a short man (reliever), having him throw 15 to 20 minutes every third day," said Yeager. "After a couple of weeks he was ready to throw batting practice against the (minor league) Savannah Cardinals." Yeager also had to prepare Bergenger for long stints in a catcher's crouch. Bergenger moves like Bill Buckner, but he can swing a bat and catch. Bernsen looks legit as an infielder.
In the end, the unlikely Bad News Indians procede to . . . well, you know. We never see the World Series, however. Hmmm, sounds like "Major League II."
"Field of Dreams" sounds crazy to describe - an Iowa farmer who dresses like Ralph Lauren is weeding the cornfield one day when he hears a voice telling him to mow down his crop and build a baseball diamond. "If you build it, he will come," the voice says, without mention of farm subsidies or anything like that. Well, heck with it, Kevin Costner, back for his second baseball movie, decides to do something "completely illogical," and, bingo, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the scandalous 1919 Black Sox turn up, back from the dead.
What unfolds is a beautiful, magical, gentle fantasy that might well prove to be one of the year's best films. "Field of Dreams" is about second chances, reconciliation, dreams, life, fathers and sons, nostalgia. It dares to be sentimental.
Eventually, Costner is led to a former radical '60s writer (James Earl Jones), an aging former ballplayer (Burt Lancaster), and, in the film's most poignant moment, a meeting with . . . well, you'll see.
Along the way, the film uses baseball and the special feeling many have for the game as a way to unite all of the above elements, particularly as a tie to a more innocent and simple past. The smell of a leather glove, the feel of a bat, the acres of green grass. Shoeless Joe takes it all in and asks, "Is this heaven?" No, it's Iowa, and it's a "Field of Dreams" that is a must-see.