If the entertainment industry's servile veneration of baseball provokes any more groveling paeans like this, the national pastime could easily fall behind dwarf-tossing and spotted-owl hunting as an acceptable sport.

If the entertainment industry’s servile veneration of baseball provokes any more groveling paeans like this, the national pastime could easily fall behind dwarf-tossing and spotted-owl hunting as an acceptable sport.

Spark Smith (Joe Mantegna) is the crude and pigheaded manager of a major-league team, constantly battling the club’s owner, an equally odious Steinbrenner-esque boor played by Michael Lerner.

Injured while doing a TV commercial, Smith is fired by the gleeful owner and quickly plunges into well-deserved obscurity and despair. In what might constitute a lethal blow to East-West relations, Smith is hired to manage Russia’s Olympic baseball team.

So begins a predictable, uninspired and decidedly unamusing comedy. Equally unsurprising is the American’s ability to outfox his half-witted Commie handlers and overcome the ineptness of his lovable band of peasant jocks.

Our contemptible manager, soon sheds his Ugly American loutishness to become a sensitive, self-sacrificing person, filled with enough goodwill and noble aspiration to scuttle a United Nations publicity film. And in the end, his hardy band of Russkies defeats the team owned by his nemesis.

Robert Rodat’s script for this high-concept comedy is mechanical, and the direction by Tommy Lee Wallach is routine at best. One senses here an unfortunate unfamiliarity with comedic material–an even more acute problem, given that there is so little of it.

To fully relish this film, one must be a One-World Federalist or a baseball neurotic who still carries a Sandy Koufax autograph in his wallet. Preferably both.

The Comrades of Summer

(Sat. (11), 8-9:30 p.m., HBO)

Production

A presentation of HBO Pictures and Grossbart/Barnett Prods. Executive producers, Joan Barnett, Jack Grossbart. Producers, Tim Braine, David Pritchard. Director, Tommy Lee Wallace. Writer, Robert Rodat. Photography, Richard Leiterman.

Crew

Editor, Stephen E. Rivkin; music, William Olvis.

Cast

Cast: Joe Mantegna, Natalya Negoda, Michael Lerner, Mark Rolston, John Fleck, Eric Allan Kramer, Ian Tracey, Jay Brazeau, Dwight Koss, David Berner, Garry Chalk.
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