Major League blends slapstick and dialogue

Sure the latest sequel pales in comparison to the original Major League. Sure even Charlie Sheen dodged signing on to this sequel. Sure the jokes are about as low brow as those in an Ernest movie. But keeping things in perspective, and taking the film at face value, Major League: Back to the Minors succeeds.

Gus Cantrell (Scott Bakula, “Quantum Leap”) is a burnt-out veteran minor league pitcher. Before Gus hits the showers for the last time, his buddy Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen, “L.A. Law”), owner of the Minnesota Twins, offers him a managing position with the Triple-A team South Carolina Buzz. And since Gus needs a job, he is only too happy to accept. Bakula moves from television to the silver screen rather smoothly. He has a soft arc with real emotions.

Gus arrives for the Buzz’s spring training, where he is confronted by misfits instead of a minor league players: The guys can barely manage an inning without a mishap. Heading the bunch is catcher Rube Baker,(Eric Bruskotter, Starship Troopers) who can hit, but can’t throw to save his life.

The good-natured-but-clumsy ogre is joined by Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), a Cuban voodoo outfielder whose antics are still worth a chuckle or two. During the course of the three Major Leagues, Pedro has gone from voodoo, to Buddhism and now to Christianity.

Tanaka (Takaaki Ishibashi, Major League II) is the non-English speaking Japanese player whose break from baseball to manage a putt-putt theme park has left a void in his life. And rounding out the lot of mentionable characters are the two Cuban twins – a short stop and a second baseman.

Under Coach Gus, the oddballs shape up and start to gel. Pleased and surprised with the Buzz’s winning streak, Roger summons Gus to Minnesota and goads him into an exhibition game between the Twins and the Buzz at the Metrodome.

The game ending in an unexpected draw, Gus ups the ante and challenges Twins’ haughty manager Leonard Huff (Ted McGinley, “Married With Children”) to a rematch between their teams. This time, though, the game is on the Buzz’s home turf, with a gamble that can make or break Gus’ career.

Major League: Back to the Minors at times moves like a 50-mile-an hour fastball, but manages to sustain its overall momentum. Director John Warren’s tight editing and right blend of slapstick and dialogue keep it going. Warren’s use of catchy background score and combination of angles makes for smooth transitions between scenes.

Unlike many sequels, the film doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Major League: Back to the Minors, rightfully foregoes its hand at serious character and plot development, and sticks to visual pleasers and gags.

And indeed, the visual gags and one-liners are at almost every turn. Even the characters, each with their ridiculously-overblown idiosyncrasies, manage to strike a sympathetic note. The fact that these guys are underdogs is somewhat appealing. Unlike their predecessors, they’re minor leaguers with no safety to fall back on if they don’t succeed.

“They don’t have to be the best nine guys in the world. They just have to work for the team,” upbeat Gus says to his fumbling players. Although the actors are not the best ensemble, the fact that they gel covers up their inadequacies.

Major League: Back to the Minors opens Friday.3 hatchets.

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