Directed by David S. Ward
Written by R.J. Stewart
As we have seen in the past with this marathon, baseball movie sequels typically don’t fare too well against the originals (re: Bad News Bears). There will be a few more opportunities for this theory to disprove itself, with a few more Sandlot films and even an additional Major League film. However, if Major League II is any indication of the direction of the series, the third film in the trilogy will be horrendous, just as The Bad News Bears Go to Japan was. You really cannot blame the studio for trying with the breakout hit that was Major League, and while I have ranked a few other films ahead of it in the marathon, the original of this series will prove to be a lasting success with plenty of memorable scenes, characters and moments that will forever be a part of what makes up the history of baseball movies. Capturing lightning in a bottle more than once is a tall order though.
Major League II picks up where the last left off, at the end of a surprisingly successful season. Hopes are high as the Indians return to spring training with a few new players in the organization. The team returns Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), a clean cut Rick Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), voodoo turned zen slugger Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), and the speedy Willie Mayes Hayes (though now played by Omar Epps). Added are Japanese outfielder Isuro Tanaka and rookie catcher Rube Baker, whose yips present a problem, and Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) has bought the team from Rachel Phelps. But after manager Lou Brown suffers a heart attack, Jake takes over as manager of the team and Dorn is forced to sell the team back to Phelps, but stays on as GM. Once again the team must surge from the basement of the standings to make the playoffs.
The main problem with the film is that it tries to be the same thing as the original, but with fewer crucial parts. As the team was near perfection in the original, there is no chance of addition by subtraction with the loss of Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes and a few of the other critical elements that made the film successful. There are plenty of memorable lines and laughs to be considered a viable entry into the Major League series, but what Major League II lacks is any sense of originality or ambition. While I disliked the side story of Jake and Lynn, Major League II fails to make an concerted effort to tell a side story at all. The lame insert of Rick Vaughn cleaning up his act, being controlled by his girlfriend (Alison Doody), is a cheap replacement for something I didn’t even think worked that well.
Spending so much time with the team and baseball action is fine if the team lives up to its promise from the first installment. But it doesn’t. Relegating Lou Brown to a hospital bed and putting that job on the shoulders of Jake takes a personality out of the equation and the rest suffers as a result. Omar Epps does his best Wesley Snipes impersonation, but he lacks Snipes’ charisma. I think the biggest problem here is that we already know these players, so getting to know them, one of the charms of the original, is no longer a necessity. So instead of interesting character development and compelling, invested drama, we get a tired baseball season with tired characters trying to recreate magic in a bottle. The result is an extremely bland movie.
Much of this has to do with rather lazy writing, which creates little to no stakes. The team tries to be something new and fails, just like the movie, so it goes back to being “itself” in order to win, retreading worn ground already pioneered by the film’s predecessor. I will say that the inclusion of Tanaka is ahead of its time, as the first Japanese position player in the Major Leagues was not until Ichiro Suzuki broke into the league in 2001. Randy Quaid’s crazed fan is a notable inclusion as well, with how much the Cleveland sports fan has suffered through the years, even through today. I also loved seeing Dennis Haysbert back in action as Cerrano after having been completely wasted in Mr. Baseball. But simply rehashing the same premise as something that worked before is not nearly enough to impressive or improve. Luckily for audiences, spending time with familiar characters, and getting a few good lines here and there will likely be enough to make Major League II not horrible, as “not horrible” is about the best way to describe it.