Major League

(1989) ** 1/2 R
107 min. Paramount Pictures. Directors: David S. Ward, Irby Smith. Cast: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Rene Russo, Margaret Whitton.

/content/films/3415/1.jpgRemember when baseball still had an innocence and promise about it? When "the boys of summer" didn't inspire suspicion of steroids, and commercialism hadn't yet overwhelmed a team's identity? The 1989 comedy Major League provides a window into that time—while spoofing the worst of baseball, the movie also takes us on a predictable underdog journey to redemption, reminding us how baseball makes room for excellence of the individual and camaraderie, if the coaching and players want it badly enough.

At the film's outset, ex-showgirl Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) inherits longtime losers the Cleveland Indians. Swiftly, she develops a Producers-esque strategy to maximize the team's limited worth: replace all the players with guaranteed losers, tank the season, and send attendance into a tailspin that will open a contractual loophole allowing her to move the team to Miami. She hires people  long since cast away, like manager Lou Brown (loveably gruff James Gammon), once-great middle-aged catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), and high-maintenance third baseman Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen). The team also tries out unproven talent: voodoo-worshipping Cuban power hitter Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), self-confident base-stealer Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), and hotshot pitcher Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), who sports a punky thunderbolt haircut and a cocky attitude that earn him the nickname—and crowd-pleasing theme song—"Wild Thing."

On the face of it, the film has interesting characters (and fans will tell you, ones with whom they fell in love), but they all turn out to be cardboard seat fillers for baseball yuks and, in one case, corny romance: Taylor attempts to rekindle his romance with ex-girlfriend Lynn, played with panache by Rene Russo. There's a novelty to the particpation of Major League Baseball, which allows a rivalry between the Indians and the New York Yankees, and the baseball action is expertly choreographed. There's Bob Eucker as the Jack Daniels-swilling radio broadcaster Harry Doyle ("Just a bit outside..."), and enough testosterone to power a whole season of baseball, with locker-room antics and ball-busting male banter (like Pete Vuckovich's ad lib "How's your wife and my kids?"). Mostly, Major League is a meat-and-potatoes '80s movie, that maybe doesn't "taste great," but at least is "less filling."

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 5/12/2009

Distributor: Paramount Home Video

Major League comes to Blu-ray in a transfer that, while being just average for the next-gen format, is a definite step up from DVD. Due to the source material, the picture can be a bit soft—it certainly never pops—but there's also no digital artifacting and detail is significantly more revealing than in any previous issue. The film's sound demands are minimal, but Paramount delivers a nice Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that, while unexciting, gets the job done.

The Wild Thing Edition's sturdy collection of DVD extras gets ported over to Blu-ray, beginning with a commentary by writer/director David S. Ward and producer Chris Chesser. These guys aren't jaded (or hide it well), and it's interesting to hear their story of putting the film together—as well as Ward's clear affection for the sport.

"My Kinda Team: Making Major League" (23:10, SD) nicely recounts down how the film came together and runs down the characters and the contributions of the actors. Participants include Ward, Chesser, Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert, Steve Yeager of the L.A. Dodgers, Wesley Snipes (vintage), Chelcie Ross, and Bob Eucker.

"A Major League Look at Major League" (14:27) surveys several in the Cleveland Indians organization for their thoughts about the film.

"Bob Eucker: Just a Bit Outside" (12:43, SD) features an interview with ballplayer-turned-actor Eucker, with many of the above—including Sheen, Ross, and Ward—popping up to enthuse about him. This featurette also includes a generous sampling of Eucker outtakes.

"Alternate Ending with Filmmaker Introduction" (4:18, SD) intriguingly fill us in on the original ending and why it was ultimately discarded.

"A Tour of Cerrano's Locker" (1:36, SD) is a cute little vintage clip with Haysbert sort of in character, and lastly, we get a Photo Gallery.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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