With all the major sports leagues this time of the year suspending play due to fears over the coronavirus, it's time to look at the old film vault to see what can cheer up depressed sports fans. Here are a few suggestions of films: Major League, Caddyshack, and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.
Major League (1989)
Major League serves as a raw bar for "realistic" baseball films. While not based on a true story, many aspects depicted in the film were accurate to the game. Examples are the film's depictions of player attitudes, locker room hijinks, and the season's grind. A few contemporary figures in Major League Baseball cited a film as an inspiration for them in the game.
Director and writer David S. Ward wanted to capture the spirit of the game. From his script, what may be considered PG-13 standards today, was R in 1989. The film's sequels lacked the heart of the original. Like most sequels, they sloppily tried to recreate the narrative without actually advancing the story.
Major League was about a fictionalized version of the Cleveland Indians. Their original owner passed and left ownership of his team to his ex-showgirl widow Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton). The team's perennial loser status gave Rachel the idea of fielding a random team of misfits so miserable, attendance plummets where she can move the team to Miami. The film took place before the real MLB expansion Miami Marlins.
Rachel tasks her general manager Charlie Donovan (Charles Cyphers) to recruit from the list of misfits to field the awful team. The team consists of a mix of has been veterans with lingering issues, amateur players with no professional experience, and rookies with questionable backgrounds.
Featuring an all-star cast of Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, and Wesley Snipes, it goes to show how far determination, passion and practice goes. It is the quintessential MLB underdog story.
While Happy Gilmore (1996) deserves honorable mention, what makes Caddyshack (1980) stand out is ensemble nature of the film. Directed by Harold Ramis and co-written by Brian Doyle-Murray and Douglas Kenney), the film follows a golf course and its occupants. They mix from the wealthy and eccentric to the poorer and down-to-earth staff.
The film spotlighted the comedic and improvisational talents of Ramis and stars Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield. There were spot gags and opportunities for the actors to shine that didn't feel out of place. For a first effort, Ramis proved a natural behind the camera. Even the smaller things of the film like the gopher fit right in. The puppet worked not just because if its screwball scenarios, but Bill Murray's work as Carl Spackler showed the world he wasn't just any face on Saturday Night Live. He was destined for superstardom.
Caddyshack set the bar for sports screwball comedies.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Rawson Marshall Thurber's Dodgeball shows you can achieve comedic gold from the unlikeliest of places. While so many films focus on the major sports, Thurber concentrated on a more obscure game usually played by youth groups and playgrounds. Thurber got the perfect mix of talent getting Ben Stiller in his only major antagonist role to date versus Vince Vaughn, who once played Norman Bates in the ill-advised Psycho remake.
Vaughn plays Peter La Fleur who is probably one of the most apathetic main characters in cinema. He runs a gym called Average Joes where its members are walking clichés. Somehow Pete can run a business without paying any bills for however many months he's run the gym. A lawyer Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor) comes in to inform him his rival White Goodman (Stiller), who owns Globogym is going to buyout Average Joes unless Pete can come up with what he owes.
One of Pete's members Gordon (Stephen Root), who rehashes his "Milton" character from Office Space ( 1999), informed Pete and the nearby members of a dodgeball tournament with the cash prize to pay off the debt. The group agrees and tries to train to compete for the tournament. When White gets hold of the news, he has his own team set up to try to sabotage the Joes' efforts.
Vaughn plays Pete as straight as can be and Stiller is the nerdy villain we never knew we all wanted. Dodgeball never takes itself too seriously from its awkward to the slapstick action. If the Three Stooges ever made a contemporary sports film, this would be it.