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‘Major League’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 07, 1989

If there's any such thing as a written-in-stone rule in Hollywood, it's that a movie hit is a trend in itself. And, never one to let a trend pass it by, Paramount has moved its "Bull Durham" clone into the marketplace. "Major League," written and directed by David Ward, is intended to be all the things "Bull Durham" was -- hip, irreverent, sexy. It is none of the above.

Its star, Tom Berenger, plays a catcher near the end of his career. (Why does this sound so familiar?) His ace pitcher (Charlie Sheen) is a wild man -- the fans call him "Wild Thing" -- with a punk haircut who fireballs but can't find the plate. Another of the team's stars, played by TV's Corbin Bernsen, is a wealthy third baseman more interested in protecting his stock portfolio than in diving for grounders.

All of these colorful individuals play for the Cleveland Indians (which, if we're following the "Bull Durham" model, is the major league equivalent of playing in the minors), whose owner has just passed away, leaving the team to his "showgirl" wife Rachel (Margaret Whitton). Unable to find the class of entertainment she is used to in Cleveland, Rachel is eager to accept an offer to move the team to Miami, which she will be able to do if the team's attendance drops significantly. With this in mind, she conspires to have the Tribe finish dead last, and to accomplish this assembles a cast of born losers -- one practices voodoo -- sells the team jet, replacing it with a dilapidated bus, turns off the hot water in their clubhouse, and refuses to repair their training gear.

Sound wacky enough for ya?

In the great tradition of Hollywood underdogs, these misfits refuse to perform true to form. They keep winning, darn it, no matter what obstacles Rachel throws in their path. With her team climbing in the standings and her dreams of Miami sunshine growing dimmer with each victory, Rachel makes one last push, but in doing so unwittingly provides the element that pulls the squad together. By the final day of the season, they're playing at home against the Yankees for their division title -- before a capacity crowd.

"Major League" is shamelessly formulaic. At the beginning, when it uses Randy Newman's ironic ode to Cleveland ("City of light, city of magic"), the movie has a lovely tone, and briefly, you feel a surge of anticipation, as if the people making it might actually have an original point of view or some feel for the game. All hope is dashed, though, early on, when you realize that they are cannibalizing every other baseball movie. (Newman wrote the music for "The Natural.") This is movie-making by rip-off.

Whitton, who struts naughtily through the team's locker room, patting rumps and snapping jockstraps, is a swanky farceur, but she's onscreen only briefly, which is a break for her, though not for us. Of the men, only Sheen is plausible as a ballplayer, and his particular brand of nitwit opacity works neatly. Berenger, on the other hand, looks stunned, especially in his scenes with former cover girl Rene Russo, as his love interest, who's there solely so that the star can win the pennant and the girl in one at bat. (There's something about Berenger that makes him looks as if he's radio operated.) And Bernsen gives a thinly veiled elaboration of the character he plays on "L.A. Law." This is the kind of movie where people even rip themselves off.

"Major League" is rated R and contains some adult situations and language abuse.

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