It’s a fast trip back to the minors for “Major League II,” a singularly unfunny, dramatically tepid follow-up to 1989’s $ 50 million theatrical success. Commercial prospects for the Cinderella squad are other than championship form. Unlike the screen team, the film has fast-start potential but should choke after a couple of innings.
Time has not been kind to the franchise, with the second season imposing a straitjacket structure that’s in direct opposition to the inspired chaos of the original. Apart from an emotional ninth-inning surge, this is one yarn that unravels into a heap of plot strands all too quickly.
Even the addition of a Japanese comic on the field is unlikely to provide much heat in the one offshore market where baseball packs a hefty commercial swing.
Story dives directly into the next season of the fictional Cleveland Indians, who won their onscreen division five years back. They ought to be pumped for bigger and better things. Instead, they return diminished by off-season activity.
Rick (Wild Thing) Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) has gone so legit that he’s now a sought-after spokesman for chichi products. Knee injuries send Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) to the coaching ranks, and Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen) has stepped off the fieldto buy the club from Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton). Meanwhile, Willie Mays Hayes (Omar Epps) did an action film, and Pedro Cerrano has switched from voodoo to Buddhism.
The thread running through R.J. Stewart’s screenplay is that old, feel-good saw about being yourself. The by-the-book plot systematically has each character seeing the light — which, as the team once again becomes whole, transforms the cellar club into a World Series contender.
The predictable device robs the film of a lot of momentum. Devoid of pace, much of the humor comes across as forced and insipid. Peripheral characters and commentators — so integral to the first — emerge as somehow separate and, somewhat ironically, much funnier than the principals.
While the original was a true ensemble piece, “Major League II” places its dominant emphasis on Sheen’s character. The thankless role he has to play drags him through the movie only vaguely aware that he has a crisis to resolve. When he is transformed, his moment of epiphany occurs offscreen.
The rest of the cast is allowed barely more than a single note to play. That applies to veterans, including Bernsen and Whitton, as well as the hayseed new catcher limned by Eric Bruskotter and the mean, vain heavy embodied by David Keith. Randy Quaid is badly misused in the recurring part of a fair-weather fan.
So one has to be thankful for the energy Bob Uecker provides as the radio play-by-play man and the truly inspired deadpan of his sidekick (Skip Griparis). The actor who comes off best is Wesley Snipes, who opted to skip the sequel (Epps picking up his role).
The dramatic bedrock of both “Leagues” is teamwork — do your job, work hard and collaborate. It’s a good rule of life and something the makers of “League II” seem to have forgotten during the hiatus between these two baseball production seasons.