'Major League II' is merely bush-league embarrassment

March 30, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Somewhere men are laughing and somewhere children shout -- but not leaving "Major League II."

Perhaps this dreary sequel seems more of a desecration than it is because it was filmed largely within the confines of one of the hallowed shrines of Baltimore, Camden Yards, which appears disguised as Cleveland Stadium. Whatever, let's hope that when the Yard's summer tenants arrive April 4, they have more luck than writer-director David S. Ward.

Or no, let's leave luck out of it and hope instead that the Orioles work harder than Ward, who has thrown together the laziest, sloppiest, most cynical and contemptuous of sequels. It makes "D2-The Mighty Ducks" look like . . . "Jaws IV." Neither he nor any of his performers break a sweat. They don't run out ground balls, they don't take it around the horn and they don't even keep their eye on the ball.

The ball, in this case, would be a sense of major league culture, as the film follows its version of the Cleveland Indians through another triumphant season. If "Major League II" has any chance of amusing, it's got to take us not merely inside the locker rooms, but inside the culture as well. What's it feel like to play baseball in the bigs? What is the team dynamic? How do injuries, petty jealousies, racial frictions and management biases play out over the grind of the long season? How do pro baseball players interact? You won't find out here.

What you will find is a tepid little manipulation of stereotypes, cliches so stale that John R. Tunis never bothered with them, and the dimmest humor this side of that horrible guy they call "the baseball clown." (I hate that guy.) Worse, despite having a major-league stadium crammed with screaming fans at his disposal, Ward is incapable of making the game action believable. He's not helped by a cast that universally seems unable to catch or throw or hit with anything approaching the fluidity and power of the real thing.

That wasn't so much a problem in the first film. And there were other minor pleasures in it as well (all of them conspicuously absent here), primarily the sense that ballplayers, far from being gods, were mean, narrow, stupid little snivelings, human like the rest of us. Now and then, however, they were touched with grace.

In "II" they're not human at all; they're not even plastic. There simply are no characters in this movie, only actors. Charlie Sheen, who was more of a cameo in the original, is the main man. His Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn has given up the biker leathers and the mutant scum haircuts for business suits and a girl-friend manager (Michelle Burke) who's trying to steer him to the higher rungs of corporate success, at the expense of his pitching. Alas, the movie can never remember if he's a starter, a reliever or a closer, an indication of how unsure is its grasp of baseball details.

Moreover, his predicament is that sanctimonious drivel that's become a great favorite of Hollywood hypocrites: He has "sold out" and therefore lost his stuff -- can he rediscover his roots and get that 102-m.p.h. hummer back? But whoever thought Sheen had the charm to carry this role ought to be banned from the game. He's a dour presence whose sheer gloomy density and complete inability to generate charisma destroys the picture from within.

Tom Berenger, who was pretty much the center of the first film as a tough old catcher, becomes a coach, the emergency manager and a complete nonentity. He walks around slightly redfaced, as if he's ashamed to take all that money for what amounts to a courtesy appearance.

Omar Epps stands in for Wesley Snipes, who has gone on to become a major leaguer in his own right and was much too busy for this. Of the newcomers, Epps is least objectionable: Eric Bruskotter is irritating as a farm boy so dumb his mother wears Army boots, and Takaaki Ishibashi contributes an obliviously racist portrayal of a kamikaze-like Japanese player. The brilliant actor Dennis Haysbert ("Love Field") is reduced to reiterating his voodoo-man thing as Pedro Cerano. Even David Keith, who plays an arrogant hitter named Jack Parkman, and who begins with the Indians and ends hitting against them in the ninth with the winning runs on base, has little to do but snarl and pose.

There's no joy in critic-ville: "Major League II" has struck out.

MOVIE REVIEW

"Major League II"

Starring Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger

Directed by David S. Ward

Released by Morgan Creek/Warner Bros.

PG-rated

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