Another attempt to cash in on America’s pastime, this perfectly innocuous little baseball comedy has its heart in the right place but never makes it out of the infield in terms of laughs or excitement. As a result, with limited cast appeal and the spotty performance of recent sports pix, “Little Big League” figures to lean more toward that first adjective at the ticket window.
Like last season’s “Rookie of the Year,” the premise centers on a young boy living out a big-league baseball fantasy. In this case, 12-year-old Billy (Luke Edwards) gets left a major league franchise, the Minnesota Twins, by his grandfather (Jason Robards), who has faith in the boy’s knowledge of the game and love of the team.
To the initial chagrin of the players, Billy decides to make himself manager, not-so-gradually winning them over as he tries to teach them to enjoy the game again, helping the team go on a winning tear.
Rather than simply follow that “Major League” riff to its logical conclusion, however, the script comes full circle by having Billy himself become too wrapped up with winning, straining relations with his friends until he, too, has to relearn the value of being a kid.
If that weren’t enough, Billy also must grapple with the idea of the team’s first baseman (Timothy Busfield) courting his single mom (Ashley Crow).
Castle Rock partner Andrew Scheinman, making his directing debut, seems to find all of that territory a bit too much to cover. Even with the movie’s leisurely pace and liberal use of musical montages to chart the Twins’ riseand fall, there still isn’t enough time to really develop any character other than Billy himself.
Those montages also help rob the baseball sequences of suspense or excitement , despite their technical authenticity and appearances by real-life major leaguers Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson and Wally Joyner.
To his credit, Scheinman (working from a script by his brother, Adam Scheinman, and Gregory K. Pincus) doesn’t swing for the fences in the laughs department, offering more bittersweet or tender moments than big guffaws. The result, though, is a rather muted tone, without the broad strokes or emotional highs that youngsters, in particular, might expect from the genre.
Because of the way it’s structured, Edwards really has to carry the movie, which is lot to ask. While he comes off as a real and likable kid, he’s not expressive enough to convey some of the turmoil his character seems to be — or should be — experiencing.
Robards is perhaps most effective in his cameo, while the rest of the cast mostly gets stuck swinging at material outside the strike zone. Indeed, several of the Twins players are virtually indistinguishable, and the Busfield-Crow relationship gets especially short shrift.
The pic actually fares best with its clever use of music, from Stanley Clarke’s score to the particularly appropriate John Fogerty tune “Centerfield.”
Billy’s friends also provide some occasionally amusing “Stand By Me”-type rambling about old TV shows, such as why a millionaire would be aboard the Minnow on “Gilligan’s Island.”
Production values are generally sharp, although Scheinman falls into the slow-motion trap that seems to snare most sports-related pix. In fact, with children a big part of the target audience and a two-hour running time, a faster delivery all around probably would have been advisable.