The Sandlot” is yet another wallow in the coming-of-age stakes circa 1962. It’s the story of how the new kid on the block falls in with the local misfits, joins the (baseball) team and in a series of alternately funny and poignant incidents, gets his first hint of adulthood.
Sweet and sincere, the film is also a remarkably shallow wade, rife with incident and slim on substance. The singular lack of true grit in the narrative is a decided detriment and will impact adversely on its commercial prospects. Theatrical life will be short and not so sweet and the picture’s foreign prospects are limited.
Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) arrives in some quiet piece of Americana in the summer of 1962 and, without much difficulty, is recruited into the neighborhood ad-hoc baseball team. His major league problem is that he — to use the boys’ most scatological reference –“plays like a girl.”
Endemic to the screenplay by writer/director David Mickey Evans (and co-scenarist Robert Gunter) is its singular lack of dramatic resolution. Scotty’s initial dilemma hints at a fractious family environment in which unstated tension bubbles between the boy and his stepfather Bill (Denis Leary). Eventually, it is resolved, or simply goes away. But it is just one of many missed opportunities to provide some texture to the piece.
Scotty’s mentor instead is Benny Rodriguez (Mike Vitar), the best player on the block.
Running beneath the surface of this fond remembrance is the promise of some cataclysmic event foreshadowed in a voice-over (Evans, uncredited) by the older Scotty (Arliss Howard, uncredited) 30 years later. It is not some grudge match, but the presence of a mythic feral junkyard dog that resides behind a fence next to the playing field and devours all orbs which fall into his territory. The “pickle” is that the naive Scotty has offered up his stepfather’s autographed Babe Ruth baseball and it now resides in the “beast’s” domain.
“The Sandlot” pretends to be about something when it really just strings together a series of loosely connected vignettes.
Director Evans acquits himself well in technical/craft areas in his debut feature. The film has a pleasant sheen enhanced by Anthony Richmond’s camera and a sprightly David Newman score.
Performances are strong but the pee-wee leaguers seem less like a team than an attempt to represent the cultural mosaic in microcosm. The adult roles provide solid cameo turns for James Earl Jones and Brooke Adams.