Angels in the Outfield (1994)

13 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Angels in the Outfield” is a sports fantasy that is harmless enough for young kids to enjoy, but not smart enough to please adults. It’s a condescending, overly cute, and ultimately clichéd baseball film that makes the feel-good spirit of “The Natural” look like “Bull Durham.” It may even be insulting to kids who play Little League and/or keep track of major league statistics. They deserve much better than this.

It’s a baseball fantasy story, like “Field of Dreams,” in which a baseball team is redeemed thanks to a miraculous occurrence. It begins as an 11-year-old foster child named Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is bummed because his deadbeat father says the chances of them being a family again are about the same as the last-place California Angels winning the pennant. Roger and his best friend J.P. (Milton Davis, Jr.) watch the Angels games and know that Roger’s chances are slim. So that night, Roger prays to God—“Maybe you could help them win a little.”

Roger and J.P. go to a following game where something amazing happens…depending on how you look at it. You see, a group of real angels—visible only to Roger—come down to deliver divine intervention to the game—lifting players in the air to catch fly balls, slowing down fastballs, and even pulling tricks to make the opposing team look foolish.

Divine intervention or cheating? Are you seriously telling me that God is taking sides on a baseball team just because Roger prayed for it? Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the players, who seem so worthless in the beginning, to gain some morale and momentum due to a current event that inspires them to play harder than they’ve ever played before? That would work for the kid’s prayer and you’d have a nice underdog story if done right. But no, we have seraphim rigging every baseball game. How special.

Also, the angels themselves are pretty tacky-looking. Putting a human face on a computer-generated glowing body just looks like some of the laziest effects you’ll see in a movie.

Of course, the Angels must make it to the Big Game, like just about every sports film does. The boss angel named Al (Christopher Lloyd) tells Roger that no angels will be helping the team out this time, because “championships have to be played on their own.” (That doesn’t make it any less offensive.) But the main problem is, this Big Game is ineptly shot that it just seems like it doesn’t care how it’s being shown. The preceding games are fast enough, but this game just goes on and on. The only memorable part of the game is when the over-the-hill pitcher Mel Clark (Tony Danza) tells his manager George Knox (Danny Glover) that he can’t do this anymore, and Knox gives him some helpful advice that causes Mel to believe that he can deliver the final strikeout.

Oh wait, I’m sorry. Knox tells him “You got an angel with you right now” and Roger flaps his arms around like wings, as J.P., the Angels, and EVERYONE IN THE STANDS joins in! And then Mel strikes out the player at bat, winning the game. Give me a break.

“Angels in the Outfield” is so heavy-handed that it just makes you want to throw up. It’s too sweet and sappy, trying to compensate for the fact there is absolutely nothing subtle about this film. The angels are just objects—as much as the characters talk about faith, the angels make it so difficult to accept that. So it’s hypocritical and belligerent, making for a maddening experience for those who think. And how can you not groan in disbelief at the press conference in which Knox is being relieved as manager by the team owner Hank Murphy (Ben Johnson). Why? Because Knox believes there are real angels helping his team. My question—why? What is the point? Well…it gives the Angels to stand up for Knox and having one of them say, “I won’t play for anybody but Knox,” meaning he’ll keep his job for the pennant and win the season.

By the way, this scene ends with the worst line in the movie, said by Johnson—“If there are angels out there, I hope they’re on our side.” Un-be-liev-able.

Now for the acting—Danny Glover’s Knox has a lot of screen time, as the crusty Angels manager who befriends Roger and gets his shot at redemption. He looks embarrassed throughout the film, like he would much rather be somewhere else. The same can be said for Brenda Fricker, who is wasted in the role of kindly foster mother for Roger and J.P. Then, there’s Christopher Lloyd, who plays the head angel. He’s fun enough, despite the sloppy writing he’s been given, in the scenes where he talks to Roger about the “rules” of the angels. The two kids aren’t bad—they’re merely adequate—and how often do you hear that Tony Danza gives an actually credible performance in a movie? Danza fits the role of over-the-hill pitcher nicely and is the only character that is believable.

Oh, I forgot to mention the slimy radio announcer Ranch Wilder, played by Jay O. Sanders. This guy is so despicable and so slick that I can’t help but laugh at him.

“Angels in the Outfield” is a mess. The baseball action is unexciting, the human-interest stuff is stale and unconvincing, and the views of religion—or its own rules of religion—are just so maddening that you wonder how this story would go down if it was written by a more spiritual writer? Well, people say Hollywood is full of skepticism and cynicism. That may not be entirely true, but this movie doesn’t prove that it isn’t.

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