Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - 2011

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" - 2011
Dir. by Guy Ritchie - 2 hrs. 9 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

There's something to be said for a well-done, fun franchise movie.  You can do so much worse at the multiplex to go see a couple of big stars do a big budget period movie.  As long as each installment delivers enough to have you smiling on your way out of the theatre, it doesn't need to be revolutionary or ground-breaking.  Every couple of years, you get to visit a character that you like again.  That's a fair bargain.

I don't really need to get into who Sherlock Holmes is, unless you're some kind of genius, Sherlock.  The characters are essentially the same as last time around, except Dr. Watson (Jude Law) is on the verge of getting married.  Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) doesn't look very positively on that development, but he's willing to stand by his friend.  Before that, Holmes interjects into a criminal plot being executed by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), at the behest of Moriarty (Jared Harris).  Irene is quickly written out of the film, and Moriarty refuses Holmes' request to leave Watson out of whatever mischief might pass between the two.  There is a stag party for Watson, shoddily organised by Holmes, where we are introduced to Mycroft (Stephen Fry), Sherlock's older brother.  Later, Holmes is forced to interject during Watson's honeymoon, as Moriarty proves that he's not interested in leaving Watson out of the equation.  From there, the larger mystery is a battle of wits between Holmes and Moriarty, sometimes literally, sometimes via physical confrontation, sometimes metaphorically.

I'm of two minds about Guy Ritchie's stamp on the Sherlock Holmes movies.  It's easy to see his visual flair and the trademark of his smaller budget films' story-lines: twisting heist plots with a large cast of real men who show a penchant for oneupmanship.  Even if it's coached in turn of the 20th century British language and mannerisms, Ritchie's Holmes is swaggering alpha male driven to success almost maniacally, and fueled by exotic substances to keep his motor running.  It's different than "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" or "RocknRolla" only on the surface.  But as much fun as those movies are, he seems very comfortable making this sort of big-time franchise film.  I wouldn't doom a director to make low-budget swear-a-thons for his entire career, so I suppose as much fun as those early films are, they'll always be available to go back and watch while Ritchie continues on this path.  Besides, it's not as if the Sherlock films are bad or anything.

I have some sympathy for people who worship the source material; a lifetime of reading comic books has put me in that category for more than my share of films.  I've never read a Sherlock Holmes novel, which is probably the best way to go into any given movie.  I couldn't tell you whether this was based on anything in particular, and I don't care to find out.  When someone is setting out to make any movie, the goal should be to make the best film possible.  So while I have no idea if there was a book partially set in a munitions factory, what shows up on screen is an excellent action sequence that goes from a violent direct, face-to-face confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty to a batch of rebels fleeing what seems like an army with that same munitions factory at disposal.  The actual fleeing is captured by very good editing and camera-work, and special effects that really do heighten the tension of the scene.  For a couple of minutes, we're taken from a crime version of a chess game into a war film, and it works.

And in a general sense, the film works.  It's better than the initial "Sherlock" film; it's still fun watching Downey, Jr. simultaneously border insanity and outsmart everyone, there's plenty of cleverness to the proceedings, and what's not clever can be pretty funny.  There's even a gag near the end that almost demands a repeat viewing (I, for one, am going to have to re-watch that scene at the minimum to see if there are shortcuts or if it's a matter of misdirection leading the viewer to not catch on earlier).  I'd have a hard time imagining that this will be anyone's favorite movie, but it's not supposed to be.  It's fun, it's a good sequel, and I'd show up for a third installment, should it come.

3 / 5 - Theatre

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Darkest Hour - 2011

"The Darkest Hour" - 2011
Dir. by Chris Gorak - 1 hr. 29 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Sometimes, I'm up for some brainless destruction and a kill-the-aliens movie.  There's a sort of perverse pleasure in watching Los Angeles (or wherever) get destroyed over and over again.  To reach the bar, all the movie really needs is to be loud, destroy stuff, and have cool-looking special effects.  No one sees these things for plot or character development, myself included.  So if you were going to include some sort of character development in a kill-the-aliens movie, it's pretty important that it doesn't detract from the more necessary elements.

So, what is relevant here?  A pair of American twenty-somethings are in Moscow for a business meeting.  Almost immediately, Sean (Emile Hirsch) is established as a self-absorbed dick, although I think that I was supposed to view him a little more charitably.  Although he's supposed to be kind of slacktastic, Hirsch immediately finds the wrong note for the character.  We're introduced to Sean and his business partner, Ben (Max Minghella) on an airplane flight, where Sean decides that's he's too cool to comply with the "turn off all your gadgets" decree.  I'm certain the goal to was to show him being a charmer, but instead of coming off as as a smooth talker he instead comes off as an entitled little shit, who is constantly being enabled by Ben.  And that kind of makes me hate Ben, as well.

So when the pair arrive at a business meeting to discover that a legal oversight has let their business partner, Skyler (Joel Kinnaman) rip off their surefire hit website idea wholesale, I was thinking that they probably deserved it in some karmic sense, even though Skyler was also a dick about it.  If you're keeping score, that's three-for-three on the dick-o-meter regarding the lead male characters.  And this presents a problem.  When the aliens show up (you can watch the trailer, I assume that if you're watching this film you're not doing so for a bromance between two tech start-up founders), I don't really care that much what happens to any of the main characters.  The aliens look cool, vacillating between an electric orange wisp and that sort of visual shimmer like in "Predator," and when they start turning people into grey packing peanuts, I'm not invested in the survival of Sean, Ben, Skyler, or the two random club chicks they hunker down with.  Sean's character arc sort of hints at a redemption from underachiever-dom story-line, but since the filmmakers botched their opportunity to get the audience to invest in the main characters (Sean in particular), I don't care who gets picked off and who gets the chance to lead humanity boldly into the future.

That begs the question, what is there of merit in "The Darkest Hour?"  The two biggest things is that the aliens are visually pretty cool.  Over the course of the movie, you get better glimpses of exactly what the characters are dealing with in an incremental manner.  I also liked the alien-vision visuals - it's a black and white sort of digital sketch where the people appear in orange.  That'll make more sense if you see it.  Also of interest: scenes of post-apocalyptic Moscow.  Whether or not they shot the movie there, I have no idea, but things like this are rarely set in Russia in American sci-fi films.

Perhaps my biggest quibble with this film (aside from the off-putting characterization) is the idea of bloodless deaths.  It's one of the biggest problems I had with "Sucker Punch," as well.  I fully understand that if you can come up with an excuse to divorce violence from it's trappings, you can do just as "The Darkest Hour" does and pull a PG-13 rating, thus allowing kids to see your movie without parental permission.  On the other hand, it's the single thing that pushes violent films (which I don't have a problem with) into a sort of violence pornography (which I do have a problem).  If you wouldn't allow a teenager to see a graphic death because of the bloodiness of it, you shouldn't be attempting to sell that scene to a teenager sans blood.  Actions have consequences, and being dishonest about the weight of those consequences is something that should carry a harsher rating.  I mean, that is if you intend the rating system to do any good and not just be a skirt to hide behind.

"The Darkest Hour" is not a good movie for about a dozen reasons.  You might have the same irrational affinity for these kinds of movies that I do for bonehead comedies, and I know we've all got our weaknesses.  So if this is the sort of thing that you're into, don't mind me.  I'm not going to make you sit alongside me while I re-watch "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" for the thirtieth time.  I get it.  But if that's not you, I'm microwaving some popcorn right now.  We can probably find something better (or vastly worse) to watch.

1.5 / 5 - Theatre

Friday, February 24, 2012

Constantine - 2005

"Constantine" - 2005
Dir. by Francis Lawrence - 2 hrs. 1 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Probably the most important things to know about this movie is that it's "based" on the long-running DC/Vertigo comic book series, "Hellblazer," and that it features a character co-created by Alan Moore (as well as artists Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and Rick Veitch).  What does that mean for you?  A legion of people who were prepared to hate this movie from the get-go (and I'll get to the reasons in a minute) got to it before others did, and spread their hatred far and wide.  Ordinarily, it wouldn't even be worth discussing, but this is a pretty decent film once you divorce it from it's source material (and one of it's creators).

First off, Alan Moore.  Whether or not he's right (and that's strictly a matter of opinion), he does have a habit of complaining loudly and publicly disavowing any movie that's made based on one of his creations.  Or another way to put it is that someone from the media shows up on his doorstep every time a movie is made based on one of Moore's creations, knowing that he'll say something inflammatory and spectacular.  However you look at it, it's like clockwork.  He has no problems publicly sabotaging movies based on his work, and does so out of a general moral objection to adapting creative works to different medium.  Secondly, what you see on-screen bears little resemblance to the comics work, other than the general idea and the general adaptation of one of the better Hellblazer graphic novels, titled "Dangerous Habits."  Whereas the character was initially supposed to resemble Sting (from The Police, not the wrestler) in a trenchcoat and was a cynical Brit, the filmmakers decided to cast Keanu Reeves in the main role.  So you can understand why fans of the character might not have been inclined to view this movie in a charitable manner going in.

I don't consider the changes to be necessary ones, but they were made, and there is no imaginary perfectly-strict adaptation to compare this Keanu Reeves version to.  That leaves a potential viewer a couple of reasonable options.  One is to say that the changes are absurd, and to stay far away.  The other is that you have to accept what is here, and take it at face value.  What is not reasonable is to watch it so that you can complain about it.  Yes, "Hellblazer" would have been an excellent title, but try to get a film with "hell" in the title into multiplexes.  Not impossible, but a needless battle to fight during the Bush administration.  Yes, it probably would have made more sense to cast a fair-skinned British actor in the lead, but they didn't.  It's set in Los Angeles and not London, no matter how much pouting and crying anyone does over that fact.  The question is, can you just shut up and enjoy what's here?  If not, the exit is to your left.

The story is kind of a tortured religious logic one: there are extra books to the Bible that us common folk don't know about, and they explain how the son of Satan (not the Marvel Comics character) will try to come to Earth.  Until then, demons and angles live among us incognito, playing their roles in a cosmic bet between God and the Devil to see who can collect more souls.  The demons are becoming more brazen, which concerns John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), but his lung cancer also concerns him.  The other main character, Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz), a detective, discovers that her recently-committed twin sister has committed suicide, which she finds unlikely considering the large religious consequences for her soul.  John and Angela end up working together to try to unravel what happened to Angela's sister and for the recent aggressiveness of the demons.

Does this measure up to the best "Hellblazer" comics?  Probably not.  The structure of the movie is Franchise Establishment 101; Constantine has a young apprentice, Chas Kramer (Shia LeBeouf) to spin-off in the future, there's a Magical Negro (TM Spike Lee) in Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou) with a shady past (there's your prequel), and there's an implied future romance between Constantine and Dodson.  And they don't even kill the big bad guy (that would be Satan himself, played with creepy awesomeness by Peter Stormare).  Hell, they've even got the music crossover locked down with Gavin Rossdale's character.  The entire design of the story is textbook.

But the execution is pretty fun, and that goes a long way.  The settings look fantastic; even Hell is a creepy swirl of warm colors and nasty creatures.  Keanu does the Keanu thing, there's some perverse pleasure in watching a British actress try to pull off an American accent, and the bit players rock.  Swinton and Stormare in particular are a ball to watch (not at all unusual).  If you're open to it, there's fun to be had here. If you're in the mood to nit-pick, there's certainly fuel for that fire as well, but for a spooky/action movie, "Constantine" isn't bad at all.  It's not a good adaptation of the source material, but taken on its own, it's a solid movie that could have been the foundation for an on-going franchise if things had played out a little differently.

3 / 5 - Blu-Ray

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin - 2011

"The Adventures of Tintin" - 2011
Dir. by Steven Spielberg - 1 hr. 47 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

I feel like I need to preface everything that I'm about to say here about this movie: I'm not a fan of this style of animation.  As in, not at all.  As in, I usually refuse to see movies with the mo-cap/CGI combination.  To my mind, it misses the point and charm of animation, which is to simplify and distort for effect.  The idea of creating a photo-realistic world via computer animation is pointless; there's already a perfectly fine HD world that we're already all walking around in.  I spent many years as a cartoonist, so my opinion here isn't based on nothing.  And it's also not an opinion I'm likely to change.

Having said that, "The Adventures of Tintin" was actually pretty fun.  I spent most of the first ten minutes trying to remind myself to have an open mind towards the technique, and to just try to get lost in the story.  Thankfully, "Tintin" is a fast-paced, light-hearted, adventure movie above all else, so once I was in, I was in. Tintin, who I couldn't tell if he's supposed to be a small adult human or a big teenaged orphan (he has his own apartment, but his appearance suggests that he's not necessarily an adult), gets dragged into a long-running family feud by virtue of buying a much-desired trinket at an outdoor market.  Like any good adventure story, there are different settings (the high seas, a desert, exotic cities), lots of action, a plucky side-kick (Tintin's dog, Snowy) and a buried treasure.  Probably best of all, Tintin actually has a distinct personality, and isn't just a blank slate for the viewer to use as their doorway into the film.

The thing that makes "Tintin" the most fun is the light touch that director Steven Spielberg shows.  There's two great scenes that last less than a minute apiece that really show off that skill.  The first comes in the midst of Snowy trying to keep up with a truck that contains a kidnapped Tintin in it: Snowy takes a shortcut through a herd of cattle, eventually falling down to the ground.  Snowy raises his head right into a low-hanging udder, which causes the cow to raise it's head in surprise.  Then, rather than showing Snowy smacking into udders or zig-zagging through the hooves, the camera stays above the herd, where one after another, cows raise their head in surprise, indicating Snowy's path.  The entire chase is a lot of fun, but this particular detail was very clever.  The other scene comes in the middle of the movie, where Tintin is swimming in the ocean below the surface, his trademark poof of hair raised above water level.  It's a funny throwback to "Jaws," one that all the parents caught and chuckled at.  Those are probably the two best examples of the visual approach that Spielberg takes, but it's consistent all the way through the film.

I could nitpick the techniques used to make the film to death out of spite, but the truth is that the movie was good enough to make me forget about that aspect.  In a less sprightly film, the technique would have been a major turn-off for me as a viewer, but Spielberg managed to make it a non-issue.  That's probably as much as I could have hoped for.  I wasn't terribly impressed with the character designs (mostly, it seems that the extent of artistic license used was putting an exaggerated nose on otherwise sort-of realistic face structures), but that was addressed (sort-of) immediately in the film when we're introduced to Tintin as he's sitting for a portrait in an outdoor market.  The portrait is in the style of Herge, the cartoonist who created the character in the first place.  So what it comes down it that I enjoyed "The Adventures of Tintin" despite myself, and that I'd probably look favorably on a sequel, should it arrive (one was clearly indicated at the end of the film).

3 / 5 - Theatre

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rear Window - 1954

"Rear Window" - 1954
Dir. by Alfred Hitchcock - 1 hr. 52 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

"Rear Window" definitively proves that creepiness and voyeurism never go out of style.  Sixty some odd years later, this film is still gripping and thrilling, and that's at least partially because the idea of peeping on your neighbors is a pretty timeless idea.  But also, it's because Alfred Hitchcock knew how to make a film.

The set-up is both simple and elegant: L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is an adventurous, even daring photographer.  But his last assignment left him injured and confined to his (at that point in time, non-A.D.A. compliant) apartment.  He's in a wheelchair and leg cast that goes all the way up to his waist, and just one week away from getting the cast off and resuming work.  Understandably, he's a little stir-crazy, and to pass the time watches his neighbors (there's a shared courtyard that gives him view of several different apartments).  Jeffries watches each neighbors' situation play out mostly silently.  One night, Jeffries sees one of his neighbors, Lars Thorwald (a pre-Perry Mason Raymond Burr), acting in a suspicious manner, and with his bed-ridden wife nowhere to be found.  Is it murder or Jeffries' hyperactive imagination running wild?  And how to prove a murder took place, with Jeffries' not being able to leave his wheelchair or apartment?

That's only half of the story, there's also a sizable amount of time devoted to Jeffries' relationship with Lisa (Grace Kelly).  Jeffries is resisting Lisa's attempts to domesticate him, perhaps over-romanticizing his vagabond photog-at-large lifestyle since he's spent the last seven weeks of his life being deprived of it.  He resents her high-society life and her perfection (which is about the only way to describe Grace Kelly in this role - she's like a ray of light, illuminating the screen every second she's on it); she loves him and wants to spend her life with him.  Hitchcock's treatment of female characters is a fertile subject for analysis, and "Rear Window" is no exception.  But rather than literally torturing his leading lady (like in "The Birds"), it's all emotional turmoil.  Lisa tries and tries to find a way to really get into Jeffries' heart, while he deflects and sometimes pokes at open wounds - after she comments about how the detective always has his Girl Friday, Jeffries notes dryly that the detective never ends up marrying her.  There are a number of instances of these painful verbal jabs, and Lisa doesn't try to play them off.  They register, and as a viewer, I was conscious of Hitchcock deliberately burning through the good will that audiences offered Jimmy Stewart in any role.

I'm not sure about how to go about describing how this film is one of the best films I've ever seen.  Part of it certainly is the set-up.  "Rear Window" would almost be achievable on-stage; the entire thing plays out from the confines of Jeffries' apartment.  There are interior shots, but the views offered of all of the other characters in the movie come from Jeffries' viewpoint.  Through the windows of these apartments, mini-plays play out.  We get Miss Lonelyhearts, a middle-aged single woman so desperate for company that she acts out dates in her apartment.  There's Miss Torso, a beautiful young dancer who frequently has company over.  There's a couple that sleep on the fire escape to mitigate the crazy summer heat, and lower their dog down to the courtyard below to do it's business in a wicker basket tied to a rope.  There's a newlywed couple offering Jeffries a glimpse into his potential future with Lisa, there's also a single songwriter who plays piano constantly.  There's an sculptor living on the floor level.  These characters all have their own stories, and that's before we even get to the main intrigue involving Thorwald and his missing wife.  All this in a compressed environment is a real achievement in structure and storytelling.

There's also the gripping main story.  The attempt to figure out what exactly Thorwald has done through glimpses across the way is fantastic mystery material.  It's no fun when you have everything available to you as a viewer, and Jeffries' imprisonment (of a sort) is frustrating and spellbinding.  In the mystery part of the story, the character serves as a proxy for the viewer.  Much in the same way that a moviegoer has no control over what happens in the movie itself, Jeffries is unable to act in any meaningful way unless he's able to piece together the fragments of what he's seen.  The movie goes from great to all-time great when the voyeur loses his anonymity.  When Thorwald figures out who's been watching him, and Jeffries is alone in his aparment, unarmed, it's one of the tensest, most suspenseful scenes I've ever seen play out.

The thing that grounds this story and keeps "Rear Window" from being just an excellently-executed whodunnit is the story between Lisa and Jeffries.  We've been treated to probably thousands of movies where the schubby guy has to woo a girl that's probably way out of his league, but here Hitchcock turns the tables.  Despite Jeffries' infirmity, despite her station, despite her absolute perfection (seriously, look at her in this movie and tell me you didn't fall in love with her a little bit), Lisa ends up having to figure out how to woo Jeffries.  He resents the things that should be her assets - her radiance, her connections, her perfection (the word comes up a lot in the movie, it's not entirely my choice of words).  He's used to flying by the seat of his pants, and assumes that she wouldn't be able to keep up.  So how's she supposed to win in this situation?  Jeffries' treatment of Lisa during the film is at times harsh, and there are points where I both wanted her to walk out on him, but knew that it would be awful if she did.  Lisa is the emotional heart of the film, not Jeffries, and the real story is her trying to figure out how to be a part of his life without robbing him of what makes him unique.

It's a thrill to see a movie like this: at the conclusion, I felt something that I haven't felt since seeing "Pulp Fiction" for the first time.  It's the sort of giddiness that comes from seeing a film that literally could not have been better.  It's the thrill of seeing a master filmmaker at the height of his ability.  I've seen other Hitchcock films, and have been deeply impressed with some of them.  But none of them prepared me for the experience of watching "Rear Window" for the first time.

5 / 5 - TV

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Sitter - 2011

"The Sitter" - 2011
Dir. by David Gordon Green - 1 hr. 21 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Well, I've definitely seen worse movies.  If that sounds like faint praise for "The Sitter," then I have nailed the tone that I had set out to nail.  There are indeed a million movies less funny than "The Sitter," but there are also many, many films that are better as well.

If I had to explain it, I'd say that "The Sitter" is like the neutered cousin of "Cyrus."  It's the same set-up, sort of.  Jonah Hill plays Noah Griffith, a guy who has failed his way out of school and back onto his single mother's couch.  His mother (Jessica Hecht) even has a slight resemblance to Marissa Tomei, who played his mom in "Cyrus."  But instead of getting territorial about his mom, Noah gets pressured into babysitting a trio of kids so that his mom can try to hit it off with a doctor.  Everyone seems to know that this is a bad idea from the beginning, but they all let this happen anyways.  Despite the fact that the kids are comprised of a celebutante-wannabe (Landry Bender), a pyromaniac foster child (Kevin Hernandez) and a pilled-up bundle of nerves (Max Records), things probably would go smoothly if everyone just stays home and minds their own business.  Of course, that doesn't happen.  Noah's "girlfriend" (I put that in quotes, and it's apparent why from the opening scene of the movie) lures him out to buy her cocaine with the promise of finally having sex with him.  So Noah hits the town, kids in tow.

The main thing that handicaps this film is that while you're supposed to dread the idea of Noah babysitting your children, he's fairly likable.  Over the course of the one night, he basically fixes each of the children's behavioral problems.  This presents a problem: the usual story in this situation is that the kids eventually break through the toughie's facade.  But at no point did I feel like they went far enough to make Noah truly awful enough to make his eventual redemption worthwhile.  And he's not portrayed as being any kind of threat to the children, they all almost immediately get the better of him.  Even when Noah is doing genuinely bad things (like robbing a bat mizvah, for instance), the negative aspect of it is tampered by him re-connecting with a girl that he went to school with.  When he does bad things, it ends up well for him, which might make viewers jealous or envious, but it doesn't do much to establish that he's supposed to be the problem that needs solving over the course of the movie.

I just feel like this movie was afraid to take things to a place with genuine menace, which is bizarre, considering it pulled an R-rating anyways.  "The Sitter" earned that rating, but if you're already in that territory, why not really go for the jugular?  The one thing that was both awesome and oddly disturbing was Noah's initial meeting with Karl (Sam Rockwell), the coke dealer.  Between the roller-skating door-man and the bizarre collection of body-builders seemingly filling every corner of the building, it's a truly disturbing scene (and not for any specific reason - the whole thing is just bizarre, and really good comedy as well).  That's the one scene in the film that suggests that "The Sitter" could have been a much funnier movie.

I have a hard time getting mad about a film like this.  It's a missed opportunity, to be sure, but there are a few laughs here, and it really wasn't aiming to a very high bar to begin with.  It would have been better for everyone involved if it had been better, but what "The Sitter" is is a mildly-funny comedy.  If you like watching Jonah Hill, you'll get through it quickly and largely painlessly, and also with the awareness that he's done better work.  If you don't like Hill, what are you doing reading a review of one of his movies?  It's not like there's much else to draw people in, here.

2 / 5 - Theatre

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Major League - 1989

"Major League" - 1989
Dir. by David S. Ward - 1 hr. 47 min.

Theatrical Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

A rag-tag bunch of misfits making a run at fleeting glory is a staple of sports movies.  "Major League" did it about as well as any movie has.  Or, at least as funny as any other movie has.  For all the things that the 1980s did wrong, one thing that it did very, very well was baseball movies.  More specifically, the late-80s saw four well above-average baseball films: 1988's "Bull Durham" and "8 Men Out," and 1989's "Major League" and "Field of Dreams."  "Major League" is possibly the most formulaic of the batch, but comedy isn't about reinventing the wheel most of the time.

In this film, the wheel looks like this: a Vegas showgirl inherits ownership of the long-suffering Cleveland Indians, and assembles a team of marginal talent in order to drive attendance down to the point where she can legally move the team to Miami.  The manager is a thirty-year minor-league manager, the veterans are either disinterested or broken down, and the rookies are eccentric (but also too dumb to know not to try).  So there it is, your basic batch of misfits trying to show that they belong.  There's also a good romance sub-plot between the Indians' catcher, Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), and the girl that he let get away in his wilder years, Lynn Wells (Rene Russo).  A very underrated aspect of "Major League" is that each of the main characters has appropriate age-related motivations.  Jake's aware at how lucky he is to have one more chance, and when he stumbles across his ex at a restaurant, it's like a gift.  The younger players are concerned about establishing themselves, the older ones about hanging on.  It makes for a good blend of stories.

Of course, a large component to the success of any comedy is the individual performances.  And when you look at the cast here, it's no surprise that the performances carry the film.  It's got a couple of early leading roles for Charlie Sheen (as ex-California Penal Leaguer Rick Vaughn), Wesley Snipes (as showboating Willie Mays Hayes), and Rene Russo (Jake Taylor's love interest, Lynn Wells).  It's got a couple of veteran actors in James Gammon (gruff manager Lou Brown) and Chelcie Ross (junkballer Eddie Harris), and a bonafide TV star in Corbin Bernsen (Roger Dorn).  There's even a decent smaller role for Dennis Haysbert, who you might know as the President from "24" or from a series of insurance commercials.  And if you've ever wanted to watch the President from "24" lifting weights while chomping on a cigar and wearing nothing but a jock strap, you're in luck here.

And that brings me to a very important point: this is a rough-around-the-edges crew here.   They don't necessarily get along, they uniformly swear frequently, are often in a state of semi-undress.  It's a batch of men who drink, fight, and screw their way through life.  It's almost mind-boggling to imagine any of the major league sports organizations lending their logos and trademarks to such a foul-mouthed film currently; there's not much here that you'd describe as "family-friendly."  But it's that shagginess that makes "Major League" an interesting, funny film.  It's a throwback to another era, one where every player didn't look like they stepped out of an issue of "Men's Health," one where media training wasn't even a consideration, and a time where every misstep wasn't online in a matter of seconds.  There's a certain joy in watching these characters just exist without the sort of meta-awareness that can drain the spontaneity out of anything sports-related.

Of course, none of that would matter if "Major League" wasn't funny.  But it is funny, very funny.  Out of the four films mentioned earlier, I think that only "Bull Durham" is a better all-around film.  When a comedy holds up more than twenty years later, it's not an accident.  This is a good movie, and it's fun going back and seeing some talented young actors before their careers had acquired baggage.  And aside from 1992's "A League of Their Own," there wasn't another really good baseball movie after this until 2011's "Moneyball."  Being on the edge of a drought isn't the film's fault, but it is a long time to wait for another good baseball movie.

3.5 / 5 - DVD