Major League: Back to the Minors (1998)

Written & Directed by John Warren

After Major League II, I must admit to being a bit skeptical of another in the series, especially after the drop in quality seen from the Bad News Bears trilogy, but after watching Major League: Back to the Minors, I am glad I did, not because it is a great movie. It’s not. But I’m glad I did because it feels like a natural extension of the previous two films, while remaining completely separate and doing its own thing, which I can appreciate. Written and directed by John Warren with no involvement from series creator David S. Ward, Back to the Minors merely takes place in the same universe as the previous two films, and never makes an attempt to be more of the same, or even build on the stories told in those films. It stands on its own in many ways, though fans of the series will certainly find worthy connections and references as well.

The formula remains somewhat the same, as the film opens on the aged veteran trying to have one last hurrah in baseball, albeit in the minor leagues. Gus Cantrell (Scott Bakula) uses dirty tricks to get people out as a pitcher, but when an old friend (Corbin Bernsen) approaches him to manage a minor league team in South Carolina, Gus is skeptical. After the encouragement of his girlfriend, Gus accepts the position only to find a rag tag team of guys who can hardly be called ball players. But when a cocky star player (Walton Goggins) and a few familiar faces (Dennis Haysbert, Takaaki Ishibashi) turn up, the eclectic team beings winning, prompting Cantrell to challenge the Major League team and it’s arrogant, belittling manager (Ted McGinley) to a “friendly” exhibition game.

This movie is as juvenile as it sounds to be completely honest, but there is charm to it for those familiar with the juvenile films that came before it. It certainly feels less polished than the previous entries, but its no less charming for its attempt at humor and building a story around a strange group of guys, each with their own unique personality, even if each character is a character as opposed to a real person, and their quirky traits are sometimes too far gone to even be worth comedic relief. Much of the setup of the film actually feels completely forced, and even the reliable Bob Uecker is given fake lines and the unwelcome job of product placement. But when Cerrano and Tanaka enter the scene, things improve quite a bit, as the film begins to feel a little more familiar and it’s easier to have fun with these established characters.

Bakula’s Cantrell is a welcome inclusion to the cast, however. Cantrell is the type of guy that loves and knows baseball, and with him at the helm, the film is able to focus on the baseball instead of the often forced comedy, and that is where the film gains some traction. Although it is a shame that they had to CGI the ball in many of the scenes, likely to compensate for the actor’s lack of baseball ability, the baseball action is some of the most appealing scenes in the film. It builds off the other two films in its ability to get you to like and pull for this rag tag team as they begin to finally win because they play as a team instead of a bunch of individual egos.

I again come back to the word “juvenile” for this film. The characters are often juvenile, especially the Twins manager, Huff. McGinley’s performance doesn’t feel anything remotely like a major league manager would be like, especially not as cocky as he portrays him with a team who’s having a bad season. But the sideshow of it all also somehow suits this sideshow entry into the series, with the sideshow style of the minor leagues. Major League: Back to the Minors isn’t as good as the previous entries in the series, but I’m not sure it’s supposed to be. It’s good, dumb fun and not  good movie. There really is nothing wrong with that, especially on a lazy afternoon when no baseball games are on.

**1/2 – Average

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