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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Angels in the Outfield

Title: Angels in the Outfield

Year of Release: 1994

Date Viewed: September 21st, 2010

MPAA Rating: PG

With the Major League Baseball post-season almost upon us, the time felt right to dig into my library of baseball themed movies and watch.....the only baseball themed movie in my library.

Angels in the Outfield is a reworking of a 1951 film by the same name. The story follows Roger Bomman (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young boy living in a foster care center. His mother is no longer alive and his father is either uninterested or incapable of looking after him alone. When his father makes a surprise visit to the foster home, Roger is initially excited but soon dismayed to learn that he had officially been handed over to the state of California until new legal guardians can be assigned. He still desires to stay with his father and even asks him when it could be possible for them to be a family again. His father sarcastically replies, "I'd say when the Angels win the pennant."

The "Angels" he is referring to is Roger's beloved major league baseball team: the California (now Anaheim) Angels. The all-star break had just wrapped up and the team stands in last place in their division with an ongoing fifteen game losing streak. The players have no team chemistry, no promising stars and no hope for their future. The Angels' manager George Knox (Danny Glover) has all but given up on his team and still has a chip on his shoulder from his own playing career that was cut short.

Roger takes his father's promise to heart and prays to the heavens above for a miracle to help the Angels win some games. Maybe then his father would be willing to start all over and take him back.

Roger's prayers are answered in a way that nobody could have expected. Soon, real live angels that only Roger can see fly in from the skies to manipulate the results of the games. They add extra power to a player's bat. They lift an outfielder to help him make a diving catch. Sometimes they even pull a Jedi mind trick on the manager to help him control his temper. Most of these acts are not designed to directly impact the final results of the game. They are there to give every player a much needed confidence boost and to encourage George Knox to trust everyone's abilities.

Knox is bewildered at his team's newfound success. A chance meeting with Roger informs him that he is in the presence of a miracle. Convinced that Roger is his ticket to a winning season, he invites him to witness every game from the dugout so he can be there to relay advice from heaven's angels. With their help, the team with no hope is now back in the pennant race and on the verge of the biggest comeback in MLB history.

It would have been nice if the angels' assistance would have been subtle enough to stay within the confines of reality. Then we could have been allowed to speculate whether or not any miracles really were taking place. But since this is a 1990's Disney film, they needed to make efforts to appeal to the younger less mature audiences. The angels wear large white robes and have a near-blinding shine emulating from them. The lengths they take to help the ball players make such spectacular plays don't even need an instant replay to raise suspicion. It's amusing but far far from authentic.

In fact, the only subplot that does feel remotely authentic concerns the Angels' injured reserve pitcher Mel Clark, played by Tony Danza. He doesn't see eye to eye with George Knox, the man he believes destroyed his career by forcing him to play on painkillers. His throwing arm's best days are behind him. And even though he is medically cleared to compete again, Knox has no faith and refuses to place him on the active roster. He is forced to watch every game from the dugout, waiting and hoping to one day have a say in the final outcome. You can now probably guess what happens before the movie finishes.

Clark doesn't speak much during the movie and he doesn't need to. His legacy is the real spokesman. In fact, he is even asked one time by Roger's friend if he used to be Mel Clark. "Yeah. I used to be", he replies. He doesn't overestimate his worth but knows that he still has something to contribute. His eyes practically light up when he finally gets his chance to return to glory. And that's all the speaking that needs to be done. It's a great subtle performance by Danza and one that he never received proper credit for.

Roger's friend that I had mentioned in the previous paragraph is nicknamed J.P. and played by Milton Davis Jr. The reason I almost didn't bring him up is that he is mainly a useless character. His only purpose in the film was to act as the plot device that reveals the truth behind the Angels' sudden winning streak to the public and also to provide the movie with one of its catchphrases: "It could happen."

Once the truth is revealed, the movie's tone changes for the better and every character then finds themselves facing their own greatest challenge. I encountered my own challenge in trying to figure out why the team owner would fire the manager for using a divine intervention to win games. Like anyone would really care.

Religion is addressed but not preached toward anyone. The film's message is over-sentimental at times, but if you can forgive that it's a nice one to hear. Never lose hope even when things look their bleakest. An angel may not fly down to help you but great things can still happen if you believe in yourself. The Angels' learn that as a team and some learn that in their own personal way.

Angels in the Outfield is not a great movie nor is it for everyone. But I have a soft spot for feel-good dramas even if they act self-indulgent at times. Plus there are some genuinely funny moments that I had previously forgotten that were fun to rediscover. Also be on the lookout for actors in supporting roles before they made it to the A-list. It's a good film to keep handy for the next time your local ballgame gets rained out on.

If the angels depicted here ever decide to return to Earth and assist a new ailing baseball team, I'd like to suggest the Baltimore Orioles. Lord knows they could use the help.

Rating: 7

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Lord knows I can't criticize this movie....I grew up with it!

    But, looking back, it IS a bit corny, the acting is uneven, and the special effects are criminally dated.

    But it is one of those rare movies that you could just tell that it had its heart in the right place.