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‘A League of Their Own’ (PG)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 03, 1992

Madonna made the team. So did Oscar winner Geena Davis. But the MVP of "A League of Their Own," about a 1940s women's baseball team, is unquestionably comedian Rosie O'Donnell, in her major movie debut. The movie -- call it "Batgirls Return" -- is bound to be a hit on name-power alone. But as a summer blockbuster it's more like a bunt.

In the flashback framing device (shades of "For the Boys") that opens the film, jock grandma Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) is reluctantly leaving her suburban home for a reunion of her old baseball team. As she steps uncertainly into the stadium -- BAM! -- black-and-white mock newsreels show the boys marching off to World War II, leaving minor league baseball dormant. A candy magnate comes up with the idea for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League to keep the game going (the real-life league was still swinging till 1964), and Dottie and Kit (Lori Petty), a pair of Oregon farm sisters, head for Chicago's Wrigley Field to try out for the Rockford Peaches.

The women's league catches on slowly (especially when the promoters discover that sex sells). But when the war ends, that's the ball game -- these passionate players are faced with a bitter irony, pushed aside to make way for the returning men.

"League" is pokily directed by Penny Marshall, who strains for a triple play -- girl buddy movie, pop history, feminist statement. But, as she did in "Awakenings," Marshall gums it all up in hokey sentiment.

The script, by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, is sprinkled with sassy moments, but the disjointed scenes don't add up to much. Marshall takes a choppy hits-and-bloopers approach to the baseball scenes, and the games are surprisingly passionless and suspense-free -- we never really know if the Peaches have won or lost. It all grinds down to a who-cares World Series sibling rivalry, followed by an overlong, misty-eyed coda set at the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame.

See it for the all-star lineup: Madonna is a real team player, and though she's typecast as "All the Way Mae," the team slut, she shrugs it off and has fun with the role, and really tears up the floor in a sensational jitterbug scene set in a roadhouse. O'Donnell is outstanding in her field of dreams as Mae's tough buddy Doris, a real baseball card from Peekskill Park, New York. Here's hoping she gets her own movie soon.

Debra Winger was originally cast as Dottie, the "Queen of Diamonds," and when she dropped out, Geena Davis was a late addition to the team. Davis missed out on much of the bonding and baseball basic training, and it shows -- Davis seems disconnected, as if she hasn't been introduced to her teammates. But she can hit and catch, and she's frankly glamorous, the closest thing we have to a Movie Star these days.

With the exception of one sainted dad, the guys in this movie are despicable to a man. Tom Hanks, who plays an alcoholic former major leaguer demoted to managing the Peaches, spends the first few innings of the movie in a stumblebum near-coma -- there's lots of tobacco spitting and vulgar scratching. When he finally wakes up, though, he knocks his good lines out of the park ("You're crying? There's no crying in baseball"). Jon Lovitz has a funny bit in the early moments of the movie as a cranky scout who discovers Davis and her sister. But he seems out of place, pasted in from a "Saturday Night Live" skit.

The best thing about Marshall's minor "League" (aside from the chance to see what Madonna and Davis will look like in 50 years), is that it generates an appetite to see some real baseball -- any number of women's and coed teams are now playing at a schoolyard near you.

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