It’s a common gripe these days that trailers often give away the entire movie. To an extent, the complaint is justified — who wants to see a comedy knowing all the good jokes? — but, too often, it’s because the film itself is just a glorified trailer.
Penny Marshall’s genial baseball comedy, A League of Their Own, has been one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the summer, and for obvious reasons. It’s got a great, resonant subject — the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which sprung up in 1943, when it was feared that men’s pro baseball would close down because of the war. The cast is first-rate, from Geena Davis as the lanky, long-ball-hitting heroine to Tom Hanks as the scurrilous coach to a dugout full of brash supporting players like Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell. What’s more, Marshall has proved, notably in Big (1988), that she can make a brazenly commercial movie with flair, humor, and soul.
Yet from its jokey, one-note characters to its endless baseball montages, A League of Their Own is all flash, all surface: It’s a great big trailer for itself. Telling the story of the Rockford Peaches, who work their way up to the Girls League World Series, Marshall doesn’t stage scenes, exactly; she piles on bits. It’s an odd movie, at once bubbly and amorphous, with plenty of mild laugh lines (the one bona fide hilarious scene is Hanks’ tirade about how ”There’s no crying in baseball!”) but virtually nothing you could call dialogue. League is easy to watch, but there’s no there there.
Still, I won’t be surprised if it’s a hit. After nearly two hours of sunny, innocuous baseball-movie cliches — Jon Lovitz doing his daffy TV shtick as a hard-boiled talent scout; Madonna, playing a Brooklynese bad girl and dropping one-liners that would have seemed tame to Mae West; Hanks, as the ex-pro who drank himself out of the game, recovering his self-respect (didn’t we see this routine in The Bad News Bears?) — League veers off into heavy-duty inspirational terrain. There’s the big game, of course, and then the big reunion scene — an extended flash-forward to the present day, when the now-elderly Peaches reunite at the Baseball Hall of Fame and engage in the sort of misty-eyed bonding that helped make a sleeper smash out of Fried Green Tomatoes.
It’s hard to watch this stuff without tearing up — I admit it got to me — yet it comes out of nowhere. Near the end, when Davis resolves her relationship with her neurotically competitive younger sister (Lori Petty, in the film’s most vibrant performance), it’s a guarenteed heart-tugger. Except for the opening scene, though, virtually nothing has gone on between these two for the entire movie. So even the one dramatic ”conflict” seems constructed out of thin wire. I’ve heard League of Their Own described as ”good summer entertainment.” But when a comedy is genuinely trying to be about something (in this case, the feisty, knockabout proto-feminists who were brave enough to play pro ball in the ’40s), does the fact that it happens to be released in July really excuse its being this forgettable? C+