The Sandlot (1993)

30 Jan

the sandlot 1993

Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Sandlot” presents a kind, innocent, comic portrait of boyhood, baseball, and summertime. It’s told as a baseball announcer narrates this story in flashback, looking back on his sandlot days with his friends in the early 1960s. These are just kids being kids—having fun and misadventures.

In the early 1960s, Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry), who will grow up to be the narrator of the story, is a shy kid who moves to a new neighborhood in a new town, with his mother (Karen Allen) and his stepfather (Denis Leary) with whom he’s trying to connect with. Smalls would love to play baseball, but is so ignorant of the game that he can’t throw a ball, he can’t catch, and he doesn’t even know who Babe Ruth is. His stepdad tries to teach him to play catch, but he winds up a black eye after being hit with the ball.

Smalls tries to fit in with a local sandlot team of eight players, figuring he could be the ninth. The leader Benny Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) takes Smalls in and teaches him to catch and throw. Now he’s in with the team and they have their own adventures. One of the highlights is when one of the kids—nicknamed “Squints” (Chauncey Leopardi)—tries so hard to gain the attention of the sexy lifeguard at the town swimming pool, even risking probable drowning. The outcome is most hilarious.

But the second half of the movie leads the kids into more fearsome territory, as Smalls swipes his stepdad’s Babe Ruth-autographed baseball—a family heirloom—to use to play in a game. When he’s up at bat, he accidentally hits into the neighbor’s yard, behind a fence past left field. It’s then he discovers who Babe Ruth is and realizes he must get the ball back. However, it’s not so simple to just hop over the fence and get the ball, because the yard is guarded by a dog so ferocious that it’s even labeled the “Beast,” who is said to have killed trespassers and even ate a kid who hopped over there once. This leads to the kids desperately attempting many strange schemes to retrieve it before it winds up in the Beast’s possession. They try everything they can think of in a series of more funny misadventures—including a kid-sized harness, a series of vacuum cleaners, and even an Erector set.

There’s a nice comic rhythm within the kids’ misadventures and a sense of innocence throughout. This doesn’t resort to the usual clichés you see in family movies, let alone baseball movies. “The Sandlot” is an effective feel-good family movie that provides entertainment and nostalgia for childhood. This movie was directed by David Mickey Evans, who also gave us the deplorable “Radio Flyer,” which tried to capture this same sort of delight, but ultimately failed. With “The Sandlot,” he hits a triple, if not a home run.

There are little problems with the movie (like how Babe Ruth is misspelled by one of the kids who know his statistics), but so what? Evans remembers what it was like to be a kid—awkwardness, nervousness, friendship, free-spiritedness, etc. This is a movie kids can relate to with its sense of fun and adventure, and adults can see it as a nostalgia trip. Even if you didn’t grow up in the 1960s, you still feel the spirit of things here.

There’s a lot of baseball that these kids play in this movie, and it still proves to be America’s pastime. The kids play mostly for practice, as Benny believes he’ll go on to play in the major leagues in the future (which he may be). And there’s one quick game in the middle of the movie that comes as a pushover, since there is no big game at the end, which is a pleasant surprise. The movie isn’t about winning or losing. It’s a coming-of-age story about growing up and facing your fears.

There’s also a welcome cameo by James Earl Jones, a blind former baseball player who remembers the game fondly. It adds to the conception that is the greatness of baseball.

The kids are appealing comic actors and hold the screen nicely—even Chauncey Leopardi as know-it-all Squints, who can get grating at times with his constant screaming in eagerness, gets points for being a convincing know-it-all. They add to the charm and humor of “The Sandlot.”

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