'Little Big League' is pleasant if lightweight and predictable

June 29, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The fantasy of childhood empowerment is at the root of the pleasant but entirely innocuous "Little Big League," which opens today.

In this variant, our young hero Billy Haywood (likable dweeb Luke Edwards) doesn't outsmart burglars but the American League's Central Division. Inheriting a dispirited mob of ballplayers known as the Minnesota Twins from his doting but soon tastefully dead grandfather (avuncular Jason Robards), he soon appoints himself manager and outthinks and outmotivates the likes of Hal McRae, Phil Garner, Mike Hargrove and Gene Lamont. It's great work if you can get it.

The movie is untainted by surprise or originality. It seems built from a blueprint, not a script. Anyone who listens to sports talk radio could write just as good a movie, no kidding. There will be, of course, a selfish ballplayer. There will be an old pro who must be let go. There will be a nice-guy first baseman who's also dating mom. Most pernicious of all, there will be Billy's own mounting hubris as he sinks so deep into the game, he forgets that baseball is "fun" and comes to believe that "winning is everything."

And Johnny Oates thinks he has it tough!

Well, at least Oates or any of the Orioles (as Orioles) wasn't lassoed into acting in this piffle, as was poor Ken Griffey Jr., and Randy Johnson, who are represented as the heavies in a concluding series with the Mariners. Look quickly, though, and you'll see Rafael Palmeiro, in the uniform of the Rangers. Palmeiro has no lines or close-ups but he does get to unleash a nicely studied movie double-take on the occasion of Billy's first excursion into profanity.

Evidently, so pleased with the public relations possibilities of "Little Big League" were the Twins that they pretty much turned over their domed stadium to the movie company. That, plus the participation of the authentic big leaguers and some well-spliced-in game film, gives the production the whiff of realism. Just don't pay any attention to plot.

One other value is enjoyable. The core of the film is baseball as craft, and the key to Billy's success is his mastery of fundamentals of tactical baseball. The movie makes the point that the success he enjoys actually comes from somewhere -- from his baseball wonk's database of situations and traditions. It's earned, at least, rather than simply granted him.

The film also neatly takes you onto the field with a real sense of what it must be like to be on the diamond in the bigs and it loves to study the majesty and grace of the athletes. It's not as good as the real thing, but it's a little better than nothing.


"Little Big League"

Starring Luke Edwards and Timothy Busfield

Directed by Andrew Scheinman

Released by Columbia/Castle Rock

Rated PG

... **

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