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MAJOR LEAGUE: BACK TO THE MINORS

by: Michael Dequina

You know the guy: sometimes bearded, often burly, he always manages to sit in the seat directly behind you, ever so eager to greet a film's every slight attempt at humor with a hearty, guttural explosion of laughter. You know you're neck-deep into something awful when even that guy, who reveals his perpetually guffawing self during the trailers, remains as stonily silent throughout the film as everyone else in the auditorium. And Major League: Back to the Minors is truly something awful. Horribly written and directed by John Warren, this third installment of the baseball comedy series is unwatchable drivel.

Aging minor-league pitcher Gus Cantrell (Scott Bakula) is recruited by old friend and Minnesota Twins owner Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) to coach the Twins' struggling farm team, the Buzz, an inept squad that counts among its ranks a former ballet dancer (ha ha). As can be expected, Gus manages to make winners out of these goofballs, leading to the Buzz's big moment in the sun: an exhibition game against the major league Twins themselves, in their big-city home field. Much to the chagrin of the Twins' slick, self-absorbed manager (Ted McGinley), the Buzz put on a respectable showing.

End of story. But wait--only 45 minutes of screen time has passed. So what does Warren do now? Why, what any desperate, in-over-his-head hack would do--recycle his script. After the Buzz's star player (Walt Goggins) is wooed into the majors, the Buzz once again hits hard times, and Gus has to prod them back into shape. And he does, leading to the team's big moment in the sun. You guessed it--an exhibition game against the Twins, but this time taking place on the Buzz's backwater home turf.

Going through the same story twice would not have been as big of an annoyance if Warren's script had simply done its job: be funny. But nothing in the film comes close to eliciting the slightest smirk when the writer's painful idea of witty comic repartée is something like this:
"This team has a former ballerina?"
"I don't think they call men ballerinas."
"A balladeer?"
"Isn't that a singer?"
"I think that's a troubadour."
But to merely attack the screenplay on the humor level (though it deserves a most thorough beating on that basis) is to let Warren off too easily; he can't even integrate his product plugs with the slightest trace of subtlety. Says Bob Uecker, playing the Buzz's announcer, in reference to something that happened a long time ago: "That was before Diet Coke became my beverage of choice." Warren's direction is every bit as sloppy as his writing; even though the final game's outcome is never in doubt, there's no attempt--through the editing, music, anything-- any at creating any illusion of suspense. Contributing to the mess are the actors, who plod along in haphazard directions as if no helmer were present at all, especially McGinley, whose over-the-wall-and-out-of-the-ballpark antics worked on Married...with Children but not here.

I have not seen either of the first two Major Leagues, and I'll give those films the benefit of the doubt; they could very well hold some merit. But after sitting through the excrutiating Back to the Minors, you won't find me rushing to the video stores any time soon.

RATING: no stars (out of *****)

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