Major League II

1994, Movie, PG, 104 mins

Review

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1989's MAJOR LEAGUE was a predictable but good-natured shaggy-jock story in which the new owner of the Cleveland Indians, gold-digger Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) assembled the worst lineup possible to facilitate moving the franchise to a better market. The misfit athletes, however, wised up to the scheme, pulled together, and defiantly won the pennant instead. The sequel reruns the same forumula, with only a slight reshuffling of the roster.

It's one year later, and the success of their underdog victory has spoiled the Indians. Ex-con pitching sensation Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) is now a bland yuppie. Cuban slugger Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) underwent a spiritual conversion, from aggressive voodoo to placid Buddhism, and his batting has declined accordingly. Conceited but untalented star player Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) withdrew from the diamond and replaced Rachel as owner, but he's as useless as ever. Aging catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) has likewise retired to become team manager. Consequently the Indians suffer another losing streak, dwindling fan attendance, and financial bankruptcy. While Jake and leathery Coach Lou Brown (James Gammon) try to rekindle the team's spirit, Roger Dorn sells the club to an unlikely saviour--Rachel Phelps again. She wants to gloat over their defeat as revenge for what happened in the last movie. Naturally, having Rachel to kick around again gives the players the inspiration to overcome their assorted personal problems and win the World Series.

Returning director (and native Clevelander) David S. Ward managed to reassemble the cast, with two notable exceptions: Rene Russo and Wesley Snipes, whose respective star values had risen considerably since 1989. Russo had played Jake Taylor's ex-fiancee; his earnest efforts to gain back her love was an unexpectedly touching bonus point. Here, however, main focus off the field is on the banal romantic travails of Rick Vaughn, torn between the charms of a duplicitous blonde sports agent (Alison Doody) with cover-girl looks, and a hardworking, brunette inner-city schoolteacher (Michelle Burke), also with cover-girl looks. Predicting what happens is no contest, and Sheen's low-key, nearly inert performance belies his character's nickname, "Wild Thing." As for the absent Wesley Snipes, Omar Epps (JUICE) was sent in as the thespian equivalent of a pinch-hitter, taking over the role of base-stealing Willie Mays Hayes. In a possible nudge against Snipes, Willie's off-season achievement was starring in an action B-movie, which gives him a swelled head when he dons his Indians uniform again.

Also added are Eric Bruskotter as a rookie bumpkin named Rube, Takaaki Ishibashi as a Japanese import, and David Keith as the token villain, a bully who bats for Chicago. Randy Quaid, uncredited, does a recurring gag about a diehard bleacher bum who is either the Indians' loudest fan or their most vocal heckler, depending on how the season's going. That's funny, but the highest scorer in comic terms is ballplayer-turned-comic-actor Bob Uecker, as the team's long-suffering, hard-drinking radio announcer Harry Doyle.

But these are comic personalities who barely sustained the first film, let alone a double-header, and MAJOR LEAGUE II generally feels like a case of needless extra innings. The film did respectable business, partly due to overseas boxoffice returns, particularly from the Far East, where Charlie Sheen is a bona fide superstar (accordingly, the foreign release title was WILD THING II). Despite the Cleveland settings, neither MAJOR LEAGUE was actually shot there; exteriors for the first were mainly Milwaukee, while MAJOR LEAGUE II lensed at Baltimore's Camden Yards, and that city's distinctive Bromo Seltzer Tower can clearly be seen looming reproachfully over "Cleveland Stadium." (Profanity.) leave a comment

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