Thursday, March 18, 2021

Reserved Seating Swings for the Fences: MAJOR LEAGUE II

 by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino

The review duo who do a little shimmy that makes all the girls in Cleveland swoon.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: Our baseball series is back with Spring Training for the 2021 MLB season underway. Going on hiatus is our Al Pacino series, which will be back after Scary Movie Month. Now with that housekeeping out of the way, let’s talk about 1994’s Major League II! The sequel catches us up one season after the events of the original Major League (which came out five years prior) and a lot has changed. I mean, a lot. Veteran catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) is bumped from the roster due to his age and bad knees and gradually takes over the reigns as team manager. Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has lost his mojo after going respectable with his image. Slugger Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) has gone from voodoo to buddhism, resulting in significantly less power and more strikeouts, and Willie “Mays'' Hayes (Omar Epps, replacing Wesley Snipes from the first movie) has gone Hollywood in a big way with an offseason action movie co-starring Jessie Ventura under his belt and a renewed focus on the field as a leadoff hitting power bat. Joining the club are Rube Baker (Eric Bruskotter), a rookie catcher who can’t throw the ball back to the pitcher, league bad boy free agent acquisition Jack Parkman (David Keith), and Isuro Tanaka (Takaaki Ishibashi), an eccentric right fielder from Japan.

I got your text saying that Major League II makes you think we were too hard on the original Major League. So, here’s the thing, I like Major League II more than the original. There are baseball details the sequel gets better, I think it’s just as funny and Michelle Burke (Dazed and Confused) co-stars and she’s like sunshine on a cloudy day. Also, Jack Parkman is a great sports heavy and the fact that my Chicago White Sox were respected enough in 1994 to play the villains in TWO baseball movies (Major League II and Angels in the Outfield) gives me pride.

What did you think of Major League II?
Rob: So, the more I think about it, the less surprised I am that you prefer Major League II to the original Major League. While my biggest complaint about it is its overwhelming laziness of premise (It’s the Rocky II of baseball movies), a more generous interpretation might be that it’s a more streamlined version of the original: It repeats the gags we like from that movie, develops a deeper story arc for Sheen’s character, adds a solid villain in Parkman, and gets out without overcomplicating things.

Adam: This tracks. I love Rocky II. Go on...

Rob: There simply aren’t enough plot mechanics for us to nitpick any of them, which is somehow a positive. I still prefer Major League (mostly because its R rating gives it a bit more tonal latitude), but despite the usual early ‘90s problems (casual racism and homophobia, etc.), I can definitely understand why you prefer this one. Plus, I’m one of the only people who gave Coming 2 America a decent review, so who am I to judge?

Adam: Yeah, no kidding. Just kidding. Like what you like.

Rob: In fact, given my lukewarm reaction to our Major League rewatch, I’m wondering what I (or anyone) should really expect from Major League II. I might want a little more texture and innovation from a sequel, but does that make this movie’s light and breezy attitude unacceptable? Not at all. I honestly enjoyed that it began with a montage of the first movie (aka last season) and jumped right into Spring Training. They should have just played “The Boys Are Back in Town” to bring it all home.

So while I stand by my original statement that watching this one made me think we were too hard on the original, nothing about Major League II is broken beyond repair. It slides by on our collective cultural goodwill toward the first one and doesn’t ask us to think about anything beyond that. It’s also — and this has to be said in 2021 — what you and I refer to as a “real movie.” It doesn’t feel like a sitcom pilot, which earns it an extra star from me.

Did you have a particular moment or performance you liked? I loved all the room they gave to Dennis Haysbert as the spiritually-reformed Cerrano. His and Tanaka develop a lewd victory gesture that feels authentically MLB.
Adam: The Tanaka-Cerrano dynamic is one of my favorite things about the movie. Because it’s the early ‘90s, the hook is the casual racism with Tanaka being “quirky” from Japan, but if you look past that (which is admittedly difficult), Tanaka is basically the heart and soul of the team. He talks back to the owner who is a heel, he tries to get the guys revved up in the clubhouse, and he pushes Cerrano with a mix of shaming and peaceful warrior philosophy. The character is almost accidentally layered.

Rob: Agreed. That totally saves the character.

Adam: I appreciated the lesson (albeit a simple lesson) about Charlie Sheen’s character that he shouldn’t aspire for class and that he should be proud of being on the margins. Just be yourself. I’m also a fan of Rube’s Yogi Berra-isms. My favorite is “My momma used to say it’s better to eat shit than to not eat at all.” Speaking of quotes, Bob Uecker calling a home run for the opposing team by saying “He’ll need a rocket up his ass to catch that one” will always make me laugh out loud. I’ve thought that in my head about deep home runs since I first saw Major League II in 1994.

I think the movie is (again, almost accidentally) an interesting take on an underachieving baseball team. The law of sports comedy demands that they be bad, but we just saw the same roster be good the previous season. The workaround of them being lazy underachievers is true to the sport. That happens to teams sometimes when there’s a layoff period the next season or two after they win a World Series or go deep into the playoffs. They believe in their own hype and need to go back to basics.

Rob: You don’t have to tell me. I watched the 2009 World Series.

Adam: I love how this movie is all up in arms about Willie “Mays” Hayes trying to be a power hitting leadoff man. That is exactly what teams want nowadays, but definitely not in 1994 when roles were very specific and defined. Hayes walked so Alfonso Soriano could run.
Rob: That’s the baseball verisimilitude you spoke of earlier that definitely sets this one apart from the original. Even just Vaughn being sent to the bullpen for poor performance gives this one a bit more credit. My favorite riff on that is Cerrano congratulating opposing players for their good plays. “Wonderful pitch! Cerrano was fooled!” That stuff is good.

Anything else on Major League II? You’ve turned me around on it, a bit.

Adam: Two tiny things: David Keith is totally evil Patrick Swayze, right? Also, I liked Randy Quaid as the disgruntled fan. I’ll never have that with my White Sox, but have been in his mindset before with the Chicago Bulls post-Derrick Rose era. They broke my heart from 2012-2015 and even if they’re making a run for respectability again, it might never satisfy me. The point where Quaid turns around and believes in his team again, because Sheen told him to blow it out his ass, is great because any fan wants their team to have an edge. Nice guys don’t necessarily finish last in sports, but they rarely finish first.

Rob: I felt that the movie leaned on that bit a little much toward the end, but it 100% fit the tone. One other thing: I like that Charlie Sheen puts his jackets on the same way his dad does. Go down a Google rabbit hole on that one, if you want.

Adam: Next week we’ll be back with our “Rest of the Furious” series, celebrating the non-Fast and the Furious work of that franchise’s cast with a review of Paul Walker’s utterly bananas 2006 action flick, Running Scared. Until next time...

Rob: These seats are reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment