As studios hasten to clear their shelves of product to make way for summer releases, occasionally something decent gets caught in the sweep. This third outing in the "Major League" series, which opened unceremoniously without press screenings, won't set any box office records.

As studios hasten to clear their shelves of product to make way for summer releases, occasionally some-thing decent gets caught in the sweep. This third outing in the “Major League” series, which opened unceremoniously without press screenings, won’t set any box office records; original 1989 entry grossed $50 million, the 1994 followup did $30 million, and current item, which lacks toplined Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen, will no doubt slide further according to that curve. But it’s an amusing film in its own right and should enjoy a happy ancillary life on cable and homevid.

Premise is as old as sports movies: An underdog team made up of lovable misfits takes on powerful but arrogant champions, and no fair guessing who wins. Corbin Bernsen returns as Roger Dorn, now owner of the Minnesota Twins and the minor-league South Carolina Buzz. He persuades retiring minor-league player Gus Cantrell (Scott Bakula) to manage the hapless Buzz.

First half has Gus dealing with his motley crew of players, from raw talent not quite ready for “the Show” to amiable eccentrics who will never make it; Dennis Haysbert (who appeared in both previous films) and Takaaki Ishibashi (who joined up for the second entry) are among the latter.

Showdown is with the Twins, managed by Ted McGinley, relishing his role as the flamboyant bully who runs the team. Sportscaster Bob Uecker, another series vet, provides laughs as the play by play announcer who is as dizzy as the team.

John Warren (“Naked in New York”) takes over the writing and directing chores from creator David S. Ward, and the fresh blood helps. After a slow start, Warren lets the silly plot take care of itself, choosing instead to focus on the characters and some occasionally clever gags, such as an ex ballet star (Kenneth Johnson) using his dance moves between the bases, or twin brothers who have to be tied down on the field to avoid running into each other.

Production values are crisp, with Warren and lenser Tim Suhrstedt making good use of the contrast between the Minneapolis Metrodome, where the Twins play, and the minor league ballpark of the Buzz.

Major League: Back to the Minors

Production

A Warner Bros. release of a James G. Robinson presentation of a Morgan Creek production. Produced by Robinson. Executive producers, Michael Rachmil, Gary Barber, Bill Todman Jr. Directed, written by John Warren.

With

Gus Cantrell - Scott Bakula Roger Dorn - Corbin Bernsen Pedro Cerrano - Dennis Haysbert Taka Tanakia - Takaaki Ishibashi Maggie Reynolds - Jensen Daggett Rube Baker - Eric Bruskotter Leonard Huff - Ted McGinley Harry Doyle - Bob Uecker Downtown Anderson - Walter Goggins Lance Pere - Kenneth Johnson Carlos Liston - Lobo Sebastian Doc Windgate - Peter MacKenzie
Camera (DuArt color, Technicolor prints), Tim Suhrstedt; editors, O. Nicholas Brown, Bryan H. Carroll; music, Robert Folk; production designer, David Crank; costume designer, Mary MacLeod; sound (Dolby), Carl S. Rudisill; assistant director, Christine Larson; casting, Pam Dixon Mickelson. Reviewed at the Sony Copley Place Theatre, Boston, April 17, 1998. MPAA Rating: PG 13. Running time: 100 MIN.
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