Saturday, November 26, 2011

"The Sandlot" (1993)

Starring Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar and Patrick Renna
Written by David M. Evans and Robert Gunter
Directed by David M. Evans
Rated PG - Mild language, peril
Running Time: 101 Minutes

Some movies you just remember, y'know?  You see them when you're young and for whatever reason they stick with you.  They might not be the greatest movies ever made, didn't win any awards, but for whatever reason they make their way into the consciousness of a generation.  "The Sandlot," it turns out, is one of those movies.

Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) is the new kid in town, just moved to the valley in the summer of 1962.  Hoping to make friends, he follows a group of neighborhood boys to an old, run-down baseball diamond they call the Sandlot.  Unfortunately for Smalls, he actually has no idea how to play baseball, and the others make fun of him.  But one boy, Benny Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) teaches him to catch and throw and he is soon welcomed into the group.

Over the course of the summer, Benny, Smalls, and the others including hefty tough-guy Ham (Patrick Renna), nerdy Squints (Chauncey Lombardi), Yeah-Yeah (Marty York), DeNunez (Brandon Adams), brothers Timmy and Tommy-Repeat (Victor DiMattia and Shane Obedzinski) get into a number of different adventures.  They go to a carnival chewing tobacco and end up throwing up all over a fast ride and the other occupants.  They play a pickup game against another local team and crush them - thoroughly.  They get kicked out of the municipal swimming pool when Squints takes his crush on the lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn (Marley Shelton) too far.

But the biggest adventure of them all, the one that will change their lives, comes when Smalls steals a ball signed by Babe Ruth (Art LaFleur) and ends up knocking it over a fence... a fence that separates the Sandlot from the home of mean old Mr. Mertle (James Earl Jones) and his vicious guard dog, The Beast. The ball belongs to Smalls' step-father Bill (Denis Leary), and is, of course, considerably valuable.  Benny, Smalls and the Sandlot gang must risk their lives to get back the ball before Bill returns from his business trip in Chicago and grounds Smalls for-ev-verrr... 

I have a good friend whom I call "Smalls." At some point not terribly long after we first became close, she said something to me and I replied, "You're killin' me, Smalls," which is a repeated line from "The Sandlot."  She had no idea what it meant, since she'd not seen the movie, but the nickname stuck.  I call her that more than her own name, and she once admitted to me that she preferred it when I did.

But like I said, this movie stuck with me.  If it had faded into my memory, if it hadn't made an impression on me and others of my generation, that nickname just wouldn't be exist.  But "The Sandlot" is no great, award-winning comedy.  Indeed, when watching it, it's little more than an extended, big-budget episode of "The Wonder Years."  The film is narrated by the adult Smalls (Arliss Howard), who grows up to be a professional baseball commentator.  It thrives on a warm sense of nostalgia, just as "The Wonder Years" did, though the film follows its characters through a single summer vacation rather than through the high school years of the Arnold clan.

"The Sandlot" is not laugh-out-loud funny for its entire run-time, though there are a good number of clever one-liners and gags that are quite good.  Instead, it's one of those comedies that you just sort of smile all the way through.  It's just plain old fun.  You're enjoying yourself, even if it's not gonna make you bust a gut.  It is good, solid entertainment all the way through, derivative though it may be.  The cast shares great chemistry, always coming across as a group of friends having a good time rather than as actors reciting their lines, which is key when it comes to child actors.

The film has several key sequences, but much of the action is in the second half of the film after the boys lose the Babe's ball over the fence.  The first half of the film concerns itself more with Smalls' growing relationship with the other boys as he learns the ins and outs of baseball and the group dynamic.  This can make the film seem a bit lop-sided, but again the nostalgic tone and brisk pace keep things from dragging.

I'm glad "The Sandlot" exists.  It's solid entertainment, with some great lines and a couple of hilarious situations.  And I got a great nickname for a friend out of it.  If only I could get her to watch the movie...