Saturday, April 12, 2014
Written and directed by David S. Ward, Major League is the story of a showgirl who has inherited ownership of the Cleveland Indians as she decides to get the worst players in the team in the hopes they finish dead last and move the team to Miami. Once the players full of aging veterans and young upstarts start to show signs of winning, they also learn what their owner is trying to do where they hope to go all the way. It’s a film that doesn’t just explore the world of baseball where players and coaches deal with an entire season where the world is totally against them. They also try to overcome the adversity they were tagged with. Starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Wesley Snipes, Dennis Haysbert, Chelcie Ross, Rene Russo, Margaret Whitton, Bob Uecker, and James Gammon. Major League is a witty and entertaining film from David S. Ward.
In the world of Major League Baseball, fans always have teams to root for no matter how bad they are yet this is a film set in Cleveland where its team in the Indians have often struggled to get a pennant win as they hadn’t won a pennant since 1948 at the time the film was released in 1989. The film revolves around the scheme of a new owner who wants to ensure that attendance records drop so big that she can move the team to Miami where she would get a luxurious deal. Upon hiring a minor league manager to manage the team and gather a group of player filled with has-been veterans and rookies with very little potential to succeed. Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) hopes her scheme would succeed yet manager Lou Brown (James Gammon) and his team led by veteran catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) had other plans instead. It’s a film that showcase a group of individuals who all have something different to offer yet manage to show signs they want to be good.
David S. Ward’s screenplay is filled with a lot of humor that includes some profane language in the dialogue that adds spice to the humor. Most notably in the group of misfit characters in the film as Taylor is an aging catcher with bad knees who hopes to get one more good season as well as win back the heart of ex-girlfriend Lynn (Rene Russo). Other characters include the aging pitcher Eddie Harris (Chelcie Ross) who uses all sorts of tricks to pitch good as well as veteran shortstop Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) who is a prima donna that is more concerned with securing a financial future than playing. Then there’s the small group of rookies that the franchise gain as it includes a young pitcher named Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) who has great arm but lack of control. A power-hitter in the Cuban immigrant Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) who practices voodoo in the hopes he can hit curve balls. The final rookie is Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) who is a great runner but wasn’t originally invited to try out.
While there is some tension between some of the players such as Cerrano and Harris over religion and Vaughn and Dorn over image as they’re forced to work together to deal with Phelps. While the team does get support in their general manager Charlie Donovan (Charles Cyphers), Phelps’ lack of support by having them ride in bad buses and airplanes only makes the team succeed despite the odds. One aspect of the film that adds to the humor is the commentary by the team’s broadcaster Harry Doyle (Bob Uecker) who always says some funny things while sharing the team’s frustrations as he would say things like “that’s we all we have. One goddamn hit!” His colleague Monty (Skip Griparis) would close the microphone telling “you can’t say ’goddamn’ on the air” where Doyle replies, “don’t worry. Nobody’s listening”. It’s part of the film’s genius as it’s not afraid to be crass while it has a human element that makes the characters very engaging.
Ward’s direction is quite simple as he doesn’t go for any big scenes other than the actual baseball playing scenes while balancing it with drama and humor. Ward’s approach with the latter definitely has a liveliness where it’s not afraid to be confrontational but also in moments where it has a lot of jokes that evolves in the course of the film. Among the gags involve blue-collar workers commenting on the team as well as Japanese field team having their own comments on the team. Ward’s compositions are quite rich in its presentation while some of the film is shot in Milwaukee for some scenes in the film. Still, he is able to make it look like Cleveland where he emphasizes more on its blue-collar locals who are eager to see the Indians go all the way. Even as it climaxes with the big game as it has some funny moments as well as moments to cheer for. Overall, Ward creates a very enjoyable and heartfelt film about a team defying the odds.
Cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the look of the stadium the team plays as well as many of its exterior and interior lighting schemes for some of the scenes at night. Editor Dennis M. Hill does amazing work in creating some stylish montages as well as rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s humorous moments. Production designer Jeffrey Howard, with set decorator Celeste Lee and art director John Krenz Reinhart Jr., does superb work with the look of the Cleveland Indians stadium and its beat-up buses and planes as well as some of the bars they go to.
Costume designer Erica Edell Phillips does terrific work with the design of the costumes as well as the clothes some of the characters wear to reflect on their personalities. Sound editor J. Paul Huntsman does nice work with the sound in the way the crowd sounds during the games to some of the sounds of the bats hitting the ball. The film’s music by James Newton Howard is fantastic for its swirling electronic score for some of the themes when the Indians start to win as the soundtrack includes songs by Bill Medley, Randy Newman, Lyle Lovett, and X doing a cover of the Troggs’ Wild Thing.
The casting by Joanne Zaluski is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it includes some notable small roles from Skip Griparis as Harry’s broadcast colleague and Peter Vuckovich as New York Yankees hitter Clu Haywood who always give the Indians problems. Charles Cyphers is terrific as the team’s general manager Charlie Donovan who would eventually tell Brown what Phelps is up to while James Gammon is great as the no-nonsense manager Lou Brown who always speaks the truth and says some funny shit along the way. Bob Uecker is hilarious as Harry Doyle as the team broadcaster who commentates everything that happens while often saying funny things to express his frustrations. Chelcie Ross is wonderful as the aging pitcher Eddie Harris who admits to using all sorts of things to throw good pitches while eventually learns what happens when one steals Jobu’s rum. Margaret Whitton is excellent as the team owner Margaret Phelps who despises the team as she tries to make their life a living hell.
Dennis Haysbert is superb as the voodoo-practicing power-hitter Pedro Cerrano who has this intimidating presence while Wesley Snipes is amazing as the brash but naïve Willie Mays Hayes as a guy that wants to be a star as he eventually becomes one through stealing bases. Rene Russo is fantastic as Taylor’s ex-girlfriend Lynn who is unsure if she wants to get back with him as she has a new life of her own yet becomes impressed when he does take the effort to read some books she had been recommending him. Corbin Bernsen is incredible as the prima donna player Roger Dorn who tries to make himself more valuable only to realize that he’s treated like garbage by Phelps. Charlie Sheen is phenomenal as Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn as a young pitcher with a great arm who eventually learns some control to become a top pitcher. Finally, there’s Tom Berenger in a marvelous performance as Jake Taylor as a veteran catcher who leads the team while trying to have one more great season and win back his ex-girlfriend.
Major League is a tremendous film from David S. Ward. Armed with a great cast, moments to cheer for, and some very funny one-liners. It is a film that showcases the love for baseball and why it means so much to people. Especially as it showcases the players as guys just trying to win a game and deal with all sorts of shit. In the end, Major League is an outstanding film from David S. Ward.
David S. Ward Films: (Cannery Row) - (King Ralph) - (The Program) - (Major League II) - (Down Periscope)
Related: (Major League: Back to the Minors)
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