As long as writer-director Robert King sticks to his game plan of juvenile silliness, “Angels in the Infield” manages to string together some funny, if well-worn, scenes. Patrick Warburton and David Alan Grier, two gifted comic actors, embrace the corniness of the material, but in part because of that approach the sentimentality of the ending feels even more synthetic than usual. Younger fans of the pic’s “Outfield” predecessor will enjoy this version up to a point, but adults will want to steal home after the first hour of self-conscious comedy.
“Steady” Eddie Everett (Warburton) — he got his nickname because of his especially deliberate pace — is a washed-up pitcher for the lowly Angels, a team mired deep down in the standings. The story begins as Eddie’s ex-wife, Claire (Rebecca Jenkins), shows up at a game, insisting that Eddie take in their 13-year-old daughter, Laurel (Brittney Irvin). Left with no choice, Eddie brings Laurel home, but tries to deflect all the parental responsibilities onto his put-upon agent Simon (a very likable performance by Kurt Fuller).
When Laurel prays for her father to regain his confidence so he’ll be a better dad, her prayer is answered by angel Bob Bugler (Grier), who before he died was an up-and-coming pitcher. In a clever opening, we see Bob whining about warming the bench in heaven as he watches a ball game. This “second-string” joke continues to play into the principal plot as Bob takes a nebulous group of rusty angels back to Earth to help Laurel and Eddie lead the Angels to a championship. Of course, it’s ultimately even more important that Eddie attend Laurel’s dance recital.
There’s not a single surprise here, but moment by moment the comic beats do work. Some corporate synergy comes into play as Disney pokes fun at ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” with some mild, gross-out comedy.
Weakest element of the story involves the Devil (Colin Fox), a dull Beelzebub who comes off as tacked on and tacky. King also becomes overambitious during the climactic baseball scene, and there’s a very choppily edited bit in the middle of this sequence that’s hard to follow. Overall, though, tech credits are excellent.
Warburton (“Seinfeld”) is an actor who does one thing and does it very, very well. His delivery is so dry, his visage so unwavering, his speech so clipped, that he needs to find a vehicle for his specific talents rather than simply stepping into regular acting roles. When he’s on, he’s outrageously funny, but sentiment is not his forte. While he makes the film fun to watch at the start, he becomes just bland later on when the quips stop coming.
Grier has a far greater range as an actor, but he is best when he’s allowed leeway to be ridiculous. That’s true of this telepic as a whole.