THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Tuesday, July 19, 1994 TAG: 9407200607 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E7 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, ENTERTAINMENT WRITER LENGTH: Medium: 72 lines
THE CALIFORNIA Angels have an angel in the outfield - or two.
The Disney studio, in a return to the unabashed slapstick-schmaltz of its ``Love Bug'' era, has dusted off a modest, B-budget 1951 flick and hoked it up with current special effects. The result is no ``Field of Dreams,'' but it's no nightmare either.
The remake is markedly changed from the original film. In that film, a little girl's prayers were answered when angels came to help her beloved Pittsburgh Pirates. The audience never saw the angels. The little girl just told us about them - leaving open the possibility that it was her own faith that caused miracles.
Now, the team is the California Angels and, in keeping with movies' current, perhaps sexist, obsession with male tykes, the petitioner is an 11-year-old boy. He prays and angels arrive to help out the team. The kid can see them and we can see them, but the players and fans are in the dark.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the kid. He's sincere but not especially charismatic - likely to be forgotten amid the rash of other boy actors currently in leading roles. He plays a foster child who learns how to cope with real life.
Danny Glover gives his usual fuss and gruff performance as the manager. The fact that he can't really get tough inhibits him in the early scenes, but he's extremely likable when he learns to respect angels.
Christopher Lloyd is the head angel, Al - complete with some mugging left over from the ``Back to the Future'' movies. He's pretty silly, but little kids may giggle.
Tony Danza is surprisingly level-headed as an over-the-hill pitcher. Dermot Mulroney, an actor whose career should have gotten further, is the divorced father. Brenda Fricker, surprise Oscar winner for ``My Left Foot,'' mails in her bit as a foster-home do-gooder. She's so intent on losing her Irish accent that she can't really get beyond it.
The physical slapstick is the kind of knockabout stuff that small kids will love. As long as the movie is content to be a little fantasy, it's entirely likable. It gets into trouble when it tries to be more. It seems determined to become more emotional, heavy and bigger. Less can be more.
There is a noticeable effort, too, to avoid specific Christian theology when it comes to angels. Sticking to traditional concepts of angels with halos, flowing gowns and wings, the film still wants to avoid becoming religious. The 1951 movie, made in a different era, wasn't so worried about being middle-of-the-theological-road. The boy mentions both a he-God and a she-God. There is reinforcement here that Hollywood is afraid to treat religion forthrightly, even in a fantasy movie.
As a pleasant little summer diversion, ``Angels in the Outfield'' is about what it should be. It's too bad that it comes after the stodgy, ultra-serious ``Little Big League,'' which may have turned off the potential audience of baseball fans. This one is more fun. ILLUSTRATION: Graphic
``Angels in the Outfield''
Cast: Danny Glover, Tony Danza, Brenda Fricker, Christopher
Lloyd, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dermot Mulroney
Director: William Dear
Screenplay: Dorothy Kingsley, George Wells and Holly Goldberg
MPAA rating: PG (language but not that bad)
Mal's rating: Two 1/2 stars
Locations: Greenbrier and Movies 10 in Chesapeake; Janaf in
Norfolk; Lynnhaven 8 and Pembroke in Virginia Beach