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‘The Sandlot’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 09, 1993

A baseball yarn about nine boys, the dusty lot they play on and a mysterious monster that wolfs down their stray baseballs, "Sandlot" may not be one for the ages. It's one for all ages -- at least anyone who remembers spending summers smacking baseballs, shimmying fences or trading such insults as "buffalo-butt breath."

Young Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) has just moved into a middle-class California neighborhood with his remarried mother (Karen Allen). The year is 1962. He desperately wants to join the local pickup baseball team, led by ace player Benny Rodriguez (Mike Vitar).

These guys, including bespectacled Squints (Chauncey Leopardi) and a redheaded chubster called Ham (Patrick Renna), are the coolest on earth. They play all day and every day. They're so dedicated, they don't even keep score. To join this throng would make Scotty's summer.

Unfortunately, Scotty's form needs a little work. In a motion that can only be described as an un-motion, he cocks his arm to throw, only to see the ball dribble embarrassingly to the ground. When a fly ball comes his way, he holds up his mitt and closes his eyes. Sometimes instead of throwing the ball, he'll just walk it to its destination. Even worse, he doesn't even know who Babe Ruth is. But Scotty has two things in his favor. Rodriguez is destined to be his guardian angel, and the team needs a ninth warm body.

New player Scotty learns, slowly, that putting your glove up to meet the ball often results in a catch. He even learns to throw the thing. He also learns about the monster, a snarling, doglike presence that rumbles and growls behind the fence. According to Squints, this shaggy Minotaur eats people and any ball that flies into its yard.

The big trouble comes when Scotty borrows his stepfather's prized baseball (signed by none other than Babe Ruth) for recreational use. His triumphant first homer is also the worst catastrophe of his young life, as the autographed ball sails into the dog-beast's lair. Unless that ball is recovered intact, Scotty's life is not worth living.

Kids will understand this stuff. If you can remember your younger, goofier roots, so will you. "Sandlot" isn't well made but it's alive with dopey, summertime spirit. In one episode, Squints pretends to drown so a busty lifeguard will give him the kiss of life -- not to mention the kiss of his life. In another, the sandlot dudes take one of the more violent rides at a fairground, while chawing on tough-guy tobacco. The icky result is a guaranteed audience pleaser.

"Sandlot" has its annoying qualities. Its constant narration -- intoned drearily by a grown-up Scotty -- is completely superfluous. The young performers provide all the movie's necessary exuberance. They need no pseudo-poetic recollection. Writer/director David Mickey Evans, who wrote "Radio Flyer," hits you repeatedly over the head with counterfeit, Cracker Jack romanticism. At least three times, narrator Scotty tells us how -- as a child -- he was about to get his friends into the "biggest pickle" they'd ever seen. He likes that word -- pickle. It's also hard to believe these kids are really living in the year 1962, adoring the Great Bambino, the Colossus of Clout -- Babe Ruth. They just seem like, well, the kids down today's street. Which is actually the best thing about the movie.

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