Here comes another family baseball picture with kids showing adults how the game should be played . . . this time adding angels to the mix. "Angels in the Outfield" is a remake of the 1951 black-and-white B-movie of the same title (which will make its video debut next week).
This "Angels in the Outfield" is a cut above others of this ilk, thanks to the presence of Danny Glover and some razzle-dazzle special effects in its presentation of heavenly intervention. But it tends to bog down in the second half as it gets overly sentimental.
Still, it's an enjoyable romp much of the way and how often do we get films these days that embrace rather than ridicule basic religious beliefs?
The story has a young foster boy named Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) praying for his favorite baseball team, the California Angels, to come out of a slump. When Roger's father sarcastically tells him they'll be a family again "when the Angels win the pennant," Roger takes him literally.
The next day, to Roger's surprise and amazement, his prayers are answered quite literally, as he attends an Angels game and sees an outfielder get a heavenly lift to catch a fly ball.
In the stands, the chief angel in charge of this mission, who calls himself Al (Christopher Lloyd), appears to Roger, explaining that no one else can see or hear the heavenly helpers. So, Roger goes to team manager George Knox (Danny Glover), to tell him what's going on. Knox is skeptical, of course, but eventually, as the team begins to win games, he's forced to face up to the fact that something is happening.
While "Angels in the Outfield" never actually endorses religion, per se, there is an interesting speech in the film's latter half, where both Knox and Roger's foster mother Maggie (Brenda Fricker) speak up in a press conference about the existence of angels. It's about as close as movies come these days to endorsing religious beliefs.
"Angels in the Outfield" can be enjoyed as a simple, sentimental comedy-drama, and the special-effects-driven angels are actually quite a small part of the overall movie. But the film certainly gets an energy boost each time they appear.
Glover is blustery in the film's first half and saintly in the second, naturally lending heft to the light material. Lloyd, Fricker and Tony Danza, as an over-the-hill pitcher on his last legs, are also good. Veteran character player Ben Johnson fares well in one of his standard "I'm-in-charge-here" performances as the owner of the team, Taylor Negron provides some goofy comic relief as a buffoon press agent and Jay O. Sanders is effectively nasty as the arrogant, bad-boy broadcaster. The youngsters in the film, Gordon-Levitt and Milton A. Davis Jr., don't have much range but are enjoyable.
The main problem here is one that seems to plague too many movies these days the film simply cannot seem to settle on a tone, wildly careening from broad, silly slapstick to syrupy sentiment. And in the sluggish second half it particularly overplays its hand.
But there's enough here for kids to enjoy, and parents will be pleasantly enough entertained. It's just too bad there aren't more laughs and special-effects angels to give the film a bigger boost.
"Angels in the Outfield" is rated PG for some mild violence and vulgarity.