Monday, July 4, 2011

REVIEW: The Sandlot (1993)

Baseball! The great all-American sport that I grew up with as a kid. Nothing beat getting out there and sweating with the smell of a worn-out glove and a good, solid ball to hit around. The sand from the diamond would kick up as I ran the bases and the crack of the bat against the ball was something that I’d feel good about the whole rest of the day. I played on a Little League team and I remember being out there at night, baseball diamond lit up in full. It was glorious.

Oh, I’m sorry…I was doing a review, wasn’t I? I think I can be allowed to reminisce a little, though. Especially since this is all a lead-in to me reviewing THE SANDLOT!

Director: David M. Evans
Starring: Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar

Yes, this 1993 classic is one that I don’t think can be praised enough. As much as I love baseball, I also loved this movie as a kid. It’s the story of the new kid in the neighborhood, which I never was, but I can relate anyway. His name is Scott Smalls (Tom Guiry) and he’s as awkward and na├»ve as a little kid sometimes is at that age. And it’s tough, trying to fit into a new place with kids who already know one another. We’ve all been there. So the viewer can emphasize with Scott as he tries to fit in, even though he doesn’t know anything about baseball, which all the kids in the neighborhood love to do during the summer, and is generally a ‘dork.’ The kids make fun of him, as kids do when they’re in groups. But all it takes is one kid, Benny, the neighborhood baseball prodigy of sorts, to give him a helping hand in the Zen art of baseball, and then he’s fine. Once he learns the ropes and how to play right, the kids all shrug and accept him wholeheartedly, easily and without hesitation. Ah, the simplistic ways of children.

The movie gallops along effortlessly from scene to scene with just scenes about the kids playing baseball and exchanging their usual raunchy banter. It works because these kids are all excellent actors for what the movie is going for, which is a very lighthearted, spunky story about childhood and the wonder and excitement that comes with every new moment and every fresh discovery. Everything here feels big and epic, even when it’s just kids doing what kids do. They have their fun playing baseball and get to know one another better doing it. They go to the pool and get into a rather hilarious mischief when one of the kids fakes being unconscious to get some steamy CPR from the pretty lifeguard, who he’s had a crush on for years. They go to the fair and have a bad experience chewing tobacco and then riding the rides. Needless to say, much vomit is involved…

Whatever’s going on, it’s always attacked with extreme vigor and zeal, with Scott’s grown-up narration as he looks back at his childhood driving the film quite nicely and giving it some real pizzazz and style. Films like these work best with really clever, snippy writing – you can’t get too overwrought with words or cram in too much introspection. You have to let the flashbacks themselves do the talking while providing just enough narration to add that certain humorous bounce. And this film does a hell of a good job at that, as there is never a dull moment, and never even one where you aren’t enjoying yourself. It’s hard sometimes to review movies like this, because what the hell am I going to say? How many different ways can I say “This was a lot of fun and I love watching it”?

The last 40 minutes or so delve into a more dire plot – what happens when Scott takes his stepdad’s Babe Ruth-signed ball and uses it to play, but hits it over the fence, where the gigantic dog called “The Beast” resides? He doesn’t even know who Babe Ruth is! I found that relatable because I was the same way; sometimes as a kid you just don’t know who people are. So they have to get the ball back before Scott’s stepdad gets back from his trip and finds out what happens. And so begins the greatest pickle the kids have ever been in!

Basically what they do is construct elaborate traps and ways to get down into the forbidden fenced-yard and get the ball without getting eaten by the huge, monstrous dog – and it is HUGE.  The stuff they come up with is just ridiculously complex and over the top, and it’s just so much fun watching them do it, like it’s a high-tech spy operation. Which, I guess, it is in a way. That’s the beauty of this movie. From a kid’s perspective, these really are big issues, and we’re given that perspective in the movie in full force. It’s as exciting, or moreso, as any action movie you can find. I mean…there’s even a part where they blow up a treehouse. It is as ridiculous and awesome as it sounds.

The end is blessed with perhaps the most awesome chase scene you will ever see in one of these movies as baseball prodigy Benny puts on his running shoes and makes his great escape from the Beast, who lunges and chases him through the whole town. I won’t spoil too much of this – you need to see it for yourself if you haven’t. Same goes for the final reveal of James Earl Jones at the end, too. Go watch this!

This movie is just inimitable. It is my childhood – all the awkwardness, all the soaring when things went well and all the gut-wrenching horror when they didn’t. Baseball is given its dues here, and the story is told with all the grandeur and epic flare that kids attach to everything they do. Everything is big, over the top and completely awesome about this movie. If you don’t like it you’re pretty much dead inside - dead, I say! So go see The Sandlot and let it sweep you up in its world. What a great movie.