The term “crowd-pleasing” is frequently overused, but it applies to this — the latest in a line of so-so baseball movies, which serves up its corn so unabashedly it’s hard to take offense at its sappiness. Most of its appeal is strictly for tykes, but as the roar of Disney’s “The Lion King” gradually fades, this soft pop-up to the family audience could do some purring for the studio as well.
“Angels in the Outfield” shows scant devotion to the 1951 film on which it’s based, changing the gender of its child lead and augmenting its implied magic with gauzily shot angels and other special effects — clearly aimed at a new generation of moviegoers that isn’t trusted to appreciate subtlety or possess much imagination.
Updated for non-nuclear families of the ’90s, the story centers on a foster child, Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), whose shiftless father says he may be able to reclaim him when the boy’s favorite team, the last-place California Angels, wins the pennant.
Roger offers up a prayer to make it so, and the stars twinkle in response — sending down a wild-eyed, honest-to-you-know-who angel, Al (Christopher Lloyd), whom only Roger can see.
Circumstances bring Roger and his friend J.P. (Milton Davis Jr., the tot made famous by bantering with Shaquille O’Neal in a Pepsi commercial) into contact with the Angels’ sour manager, George Knox (Danny Glover), who ultimately comes to believe the boy and uses his heavenly advice to lift the team out of the cellar.
William Dear, who directed the equally warm and fuzzy “Harry and the Hendersons,” doesn’t shy away from overblown sentimentality after a rather slow and grim first act, as glowing winged figures pop up all over the field. The script by Dorothy Kingsley, George Wells and HollyGoldberg Sloan also provides enough broad sight gags to entertain the moppet set.
In fact, “Angels” is so soft there’s barely a Snidely Whiplash in the piece, other than a smarmy radio announcer (Jay O. Sanders) who’s rooting for Knox to fail.
Glover brings the requisite mix of exasperation and reluctant warmth to his role, while Tony Danza has what amounts to an extended cameo as a washed-up pitcher given a second chance — enjoying the pic’s most moving scene, but one that also demonstrates the depths to which it’ll sink in leaving no heartstring unplucked.
Tech credits are sound, if a little overdone in visualizing the angelic visitors.