`Major' Strikeout

Major League II

Directed by David Ward

Starring Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger

The Cleveland Indians are back for spring training, but last year's renegade underdogs are this season's big-time superstars. With big-time egos to match. From the first white stretch limo that appears in the baseball stadium's parking lot, complete with party babes in skimpy spandex, "Major League II" lets us know that success has corrupted the lovable bunch of ragtag Indians. In their new-found fame, the players have forgotten the humble roots that gave them their grit and winning quality. It's the dilemma posed by the American dream: how to move from rags to riches while still holding onto the down-to-earth, rough but honest rags that made the riches first possible.

The movie handles this paradox with comfortable predictability. Not only does the story tap into the archetypal American dream, it draws its script exclusively from time-honored traditions of red-blooded American slapstick jokes, formulaic characters, and racial stereotypes. Everything is familiar and expected, kind of like an old armchair with beer stains that has been sitting in the family basement forever--not particularly attractive or inviting, but no one ever bothers to move it to the junk heap.

Likewise, the characters are tolerable but do not elicit much empathy from the audience. Before they can really come together as a team, each player must exorcise his own demon. Tom Berenger is Jake Taylon, the arthritic catcher who must deal with retirement; Omar Epps is Willie Mays Hayes who has forsaken baseball for Hollywood glitz: Charlie Sheen reprises his role as Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn, the sport's bad boy who has traded in his Harley for Armani suits, a therapist, and cheesy cereal commercials. They have their requisite moments of epiphany, laughter, and tears. The peripheral characters help fill in the rest of the stuffing for the plot and itsplodding humor: the salty coach, the evil owner, the arrogant player on the rival team, the bad and the good girlfriend. In fact, this movie implies some interesting assertions about blond and brunette personalities, the slick golden seductrees versus the nurturing, brown-eyed-girl-next-door. It might do better to explore the psychological ramifications of hair color, rather than trying to present a collection of trite triumphs.

Unfortunately, the intended feelgood moments fall short in both sincerity and humor. "Major League II" recycles the one-liners and situations that may have worked before but have been simply worn out from overuse. The movie does not even attempt to reupholster the cliches. How many more times can Japanese characters be depicted as fanatical samurais or as bonsai-loving mystics before the laughs run out? Or how about the lumbering rookie who hails from the cultural vacuum of Midwestern farmland? And the proctology jokes?

Amazingly enough, with its combination of thinly veiled ethnic slurs and body-part jokes, the movie can-not even be offensive. It does not stretch good taste any further than the average bad sitcom or thirty-second spot for anti-perspirant. Instead, it just joins a long line of Hollywood films accepted by the generous arms of pop culture. Quickly produced with their sequels released even more efficiently, they keep the shelves of the nation's video rental stores amply stocked. The Indians have not only forgotten how to play baseball, but also how to be funny. In the end the laughter comes from force of habit, rather than genuine comedy.