Friday, October 25, 2013

The Sandlot

Unartful Dodgers

By Jon Gallagher

The Sandlot (20th Century Fox, 1993) – Director: David M. Evans. Writers: David M. Evans, Robert Gunter. Cast: Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna, Denis Leary, Karen Allen, & James Earl Jones. Color, 101 minutes.

Somehow, some way, I missed seeing The Sandlot the first time around. The movie, considered by some to be a classic, was released 20 years ago and was the coming of age story of nine boys who played sandlot baseball together in the early 1960s. For the past few weeks, whenever I listen to a Dodger game on the radio (via the internet since I’m in Illinois), they’ve been talking about a promotion where they’re going to show the movie on their new big screen TV out in left field after a game. That was good enough for me. I rented the movie and previewed it before sitting down with my eight-year-old daughter for a “family movie night” that we share once a week.

We won’t be watching this one together.

There’s nothing that I wouldn’t want my eight-year-old to see, really. There are a couple words that I hope I don’t hear her say for at least a few years, but nothing that really raised my concern levels. The movie itself just isn’t very good. I’m not sure who deemed it a classic, but I’m taking their “movie classic designation license” away from them immediately.

The story is about nine boyhood friends who spend a summer hanging out and playing sandlot baseball while experiencing life around them. It’s done in a Jean Shepherd-esque feel with the adult narrator recalling his past through an adult voice. The big difference here is that Shepherd was interesting and funny. This is boring and only mildly amusing.

The movie gets off on the wrong foot. It tells the story of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series. It tells how in the bottom of the ninth with a man on and the Yankees down by a run, the Bambino steps to the plate, points to the stands, then hammers a homerun to win it in walk-off fashion. 

As a baseball fan, I know that the story of Ruth’s called shot is widely disputed. Some say it never happened at all. But let’s get the facts, or at least the lore, correct here. The called shot took place at Wrigley Field in Chicago, which means that it wasn’t the BOTTOM of the ninth because the Yankees would have been batting in the TOP of the inning. Second, it supposedly happened in the 5th inning with the score knotted 4-4. The story is a good one; you don’t have to make it more impressive by adding more BS to the pile.

It might be a little thing, but one that bugged me right from the start.

Later in the movie, there’s a neighbor (Jones), who befriends the boys. He shows off his trophies and keepsakes from a short major league career as a contemporary of Ruth. There’s a picture of him standing there with Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Jones’ character, Mr. Mertle, tells the boys that Ruth was “almost as good as hitter as me,” and that he (Mertle) would have bested Ruth’s records had it not been for his accident.

This is a major gaff. Ruth retired in 1935, some 12 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. As far as I’m concerned, this much of a historical inaccuracy is every bit as bad as if we would have seen Abraham Lincoln arriving at the White House on Marine One. I realize that producers were probably giddy at the thought of landing Jones for the role, but because of his race and the timeline, it just didn’t work.

Meanwhile, the rest of the movie isn’t much better. The nine boys are, for the most part, flat characters who blend into each other, with the stereotypical token characters represented. There’s the fat, red-headed, freckle-faced kid, a nerd with Clark Kent glasses, the pure athlete, the pervert, and of course, a couple of ethnic kids thrown in as well. No one sets themselves apart to make any one character more interesting than the others which results in a snoozefest of major proportions. Combine that with the predictability of not just some, but EACH and EVERY scene, and you’ll understand why I’m not bothering to show it to my daughter.

Even the talents of Allen, Leary, and Jones can’t save this one. This may be generous, but I’ll give this one a D.

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