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Major League (1989)

Paramount Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/12/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/13/2009

Sports movies have become so ubiquitous that saying they are a "dime a dozen" would be an understatement. While these movie have enjoyed a certain amount of popularity for years, it seems that we get more and more of them. Over the past few years, we've had Pride, We Are Marshall, and Gridiron Gang. The common theme amongst these recent films is that they are all based on true stories and they are all uplifting stories. What ever happened to cynical sports films -- especially ones which were made for adults? They may be a rarity today, but we can still enjoy some older movies such as Major League, which is enjoying a re-release on Blu-ray Disc.

As Major League opens, former-stripper Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) inherits ownership of the Cleveland Indians from her late husband. She hates living in Cleveland and she learns that if attendance drops low enough, she can move the team (she has plans to move to Miami). So, she enlists the help of team General Manager Charlie Donovan (Charles Cyphers) to bring in a group of losers to comprise the team.

Former minor league manager and current tire store employee Lou Brown (James Gammon) is hired to manage the team. Older players Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) and Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) are signed, as well as unknowns Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes), Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), and Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), who had recently been in prison. The team comes together and its clear that while some of them have talent, they don't gel as a team. Things get even tougher when Phelps begins to take away luxuries some as training equipment and proper transportation. But, as the season goes on, some of the players find things to keep them going; Rick becomes a cult figure, Jake reunites with an old girlfriend (Rene Russo), and Willie chases a goal. But, can this group of misfits achieve a winning season?

So many times, baseball movies, such as The Natural and Field of Dreams, present the game as an allegory for real life. This isn't the case with Major League. This movie presents baseball as a game played by flawed men who do a lot of crazy things. Yes, Major League falls into the stereotypical sports movie mold at times, as we are presented with the underdog team who fights against insurmountable odds to prove themselves, but all of this is played out against a backdrop of comedy.

Writer/director David S. Ward's filmography sports a mixture of comedies and dramas, and he's clearly calling on that experience in Major League. The dramatic nature is evident in the fact that the movie deals with a real-life baseball team and a group of men who have real-life problems -- Jake is dealing with aging and re-discovering lost-love; Rick must find self-confidence. But, Ward uses these issues only as a catalyst for the comedy, which comes fairly regularly in the movie. There are some sight gags, and a bit of physical comedy, but most of the laughs come from the quick and acerbic dialogue. Put bluntly, most of the characters in this movie have bad attitudes and their smartass demeanors create some great one-liners. (And we learn from the extras that this film is oft-qouted by real major league players.) While the movie could be compared to the previous year's Bull Durham, Major League is much more interested in being funny.

One of the best parts of watching Major League today is for the cast. This was Charlie Sheen's first starring role in a comedy, and his mastery of dry wit is evident here. The movie was half-way over before I realized that Dennis Haysbert was playing Cerrano. With his massive physique and Cuban accent, I didn't recognize that man now known for his smooth voice. Rene Russo made her feature film debut with this movie. But, the most surprising role is that of Wesley Snipes. It is odd to see this young Snipes who doesn't show any of the cockiness, bravado, or sheer bad attitude that we see from him today. This was clearly an actor who was willing to "go for it" to be funny, and it's a shame that he didn't do more roles like this.

The late 80s saw a slew of baseball movies and while Major League has many fans, it may be the one which gets lost in the shuffle because it isn't as high-profile as some of the more serious titles. This shouldn't be the case, as the movie is a breath of fresh air when compared to some of the other films which want to treat baseball with too much reverence. Overall, some of the jokes seem a bit dated, but the movie moves along at a nice pace and the cast can't be beat.

Major League hits a homer on
Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. Given that this is a 20 year old comedy, I had expected the worst, but the transfer looks pretty good. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, most notably the green fields, but the image is a bit dark for a Blu-ray. The level of depth is also notable. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For an idea of the audio here, just check out any of the game scenes. The stereo effects are nicely done and show a good amount of stereo separation. The surround sound from the crowds during the game scenes is very good, as the cheering and music fills the rear channels. Music also provides some much-needed bass.

This "Wild Thing Edition" Disc carries several extras, but it does not have the artificial turf slip-case which came with the DVD. We get an AUDIO COMMENTARY featuring writer/director David S. Ward and producer Chris Chesser. This is a good talk as the two reminisce about every facet of the film. They talk about shooting locations, casting, and the story. They share many tidbits about the actual athletic talent of the cast members. "My Kinda Team: Making Major League" (23 minutes) is an excellent retrospective making of, which features archival interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, as well as modern-day comments from Ward, Chesser, Sheen, Berenger, Bernsen, Haysbert, Chelcie Ross, and Bob Uecker. "A Major League Look at Major League" (14 minutes) features comments from real major leaguers who discuss their affinity for the film. The man who steals the film, Indians announcer Bob Uecker is profiled in "Bob Uecker: Just a Bit Outside" (13 minutes) -- it also profiles Uecker's own baseball career. This featurette offers a look at some great alternate takes. An unused ALTERNATE ENDING (4 minutes) may be one of the worst deleted scenes in film history. Haysbert appears in more archival footage in "A Tour of Cerrano's Locker" (90 seconds). The final extra is a PHOTO GALLERY.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long