Mostly, this picture reminded Judge Dennis Prince how deathly afraid he was of getting hit in the eye by a hardball during his Summer of '72.
"A home run of family fun!" Well, more like a base hit at the hands of a pinch-hitter.
There's no arguing that 1993's sleeper classic, The Sandlot, has become a highly regarded, almost cult-favorite film among those of us who wax nostalgic about the old days of after-school ball games and weekend marathons where the whole neighborhood descended upon the vacant lot, the sprawling field, or the adapted gully—anywhere where four bases and a pitcher's mound could be established. Director David Mickey Evans certainly struck a welcome chord with his mid-'90s adventure of a gaggle of 1960s kids enjoying a magical summer where they play ball like there's no tomorrow and face a universal fear when a prized baseball sails over the fence and into the yard where a slobbering creature lurks to devour any and all who would invade his domain. It was sweet but not saccharine; funny but never foul; fanciful but never forced. It was as magic as the situation it portrayed and has been richly regarded by fans around the world.
And then there came a sequel.
Certainly The Sandlot would be a tough act to follow, largely because it appears its success was almost accidental; an alignment of the stars and planets that is difficult if not impossible to repeat at will. But, original director Evans decided that after a ten-year hiatus, he would revisit the sandlot and bring his story forward a decade as well in The Sandlot 2.
So now it's 1972 and there's a new group of kids who maintain a steady stream of baseball games and practice sessions in the same lot where Benny, Ham, Squints, Smalls, and the rest had played years before. This time, big kid David Durango (Max Lloyd-Jones) is the leader of the pack, that which includes portly catcher Mac (Brett Kelly), Saul (Cole Evan Weiss) and his deaf younger brother Sammy (Sean Berdy), and the Super-Fly-in-training, Tarquell (Neilen Benvegnu). All is fine in their world until shrimpy neighbor kid Johnnie Smalls (James Willson), younger brother to Scotty from the first adventure, accidentally launches a model rocket into the ball team's makeshift dugout. Smalls flees to the protection of a neighbor girl, Hayley (Samantha Burton), who has no trouble asserting herself in the faces of these male-chauvinist boys from the lot behind her house. Something seems to sparkle in the eyes between Hayley and David, but there's no time for that now because there's a dugout fire that needs extinguishing. Later, Hayley and two of her girlfriends are found in the sandlot practicing softball—the girls are on a team and can play a respectable game themselves. The boys and girls decide to combine their skills after a battle-of-the-sexes standoff, agreeing to team up to take on the snotty Singleton (Reece Thompson) and his little league team. Everything's fine here with plenty of baseball games, carnivals, and pool parties until Johnnie accidentally launches a top-secret NASA prototype rocket—Hayley's dad developed it and is about to unveil it to a government inquiry—that lands in the barricaded junkyard where Hercules once roamed in '62 but is now guarded over by a mutated creature known only as "The Great Fear." Can the kids get the rocket back without being devoured by the kid-eating monster behind the wall of no return?
If you think it all sounds so strikingly familiar to the original film, you're right. At the outset let me say there's nothing inherently "bad" about The Sandlot 2, and the young cast does a respectable job in their ensemble roles. Unfortunately, it's an almost part-and-parcel remake of the original—and superior—film. So to call it a sequel is a bit of a stretch, although it is fun to see Evans jab at the '70s mentality, especially that of the obnoxious emerging woman's movement, personified to the hilt by Hayley's always-on-the-soapbox mom (Teryl Rothery). Beyond this element, as well as the addition of the three softball-playing girls, there's nothing really new here. James Earl Jones reprises his role of Mr. Mertle, the blind man who harbors the slobbering Great Fear to watch over his sprawling junk collection. Collectors among us will enjoy seeing one of the kids' rocket-retrieving inventions that combines an original Mattel "Incredible Edibles" oven from 1966 with a Major Matt Mason "Space Crawler" from 1967. Seventies collectors will likely drool over the vintage shoebox containing an early pair of Nike waffle-sole trainers. All in all, the film is a fun way to pass the time, but don't expect anything on par with (or as an extension to) the excellent first feature.
As a direct-to-video release from Fox Home Entertainment, The Sandlot 2 is presented in a flipper disc containing both full-frame and 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen versions. The image looks really good here, with great color, detail, and contrast. I only noticed a couple of moments of moiré effect but, beyond that the picture is artifact-free. The audio comes in a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix that doesn't do much for the actual action and ambient effects but really boosts the snippets of '70s classic rock tunes like Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" and Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business." Interestingly, there are ample extras on this disc, too, beginning with a feature-length commentary by Evans. He's clearly happy with his original achievement and spends quite a bit of time here talking about it. In fairness, he is also quite congratulatory of his cast of young actors as well. Then there are three featurettes: "The Sandlot Kids: Then and Now" obviously revisits the cast of the original picture to reminisce about the 1993 feature; "Back to the Lot" is a behind-the-scenes featurette where we learn about the making of this second film as narrated largely by the kids in the cast; "Our Sandlot Days" is an interesting featurette where we listen to the reminiscences of real pro-ballers Dave Winfield of the San Diego Padres and Mark Gubicza of the Kansas City Royals (and baler Steve Garvey of the L.A. Dodgers also has a small part in the film as a coach of the little league team); and last there's a playable set-top demo of the "Backyard Baseball" video game. A makeshift trailer that combines scenes from the original film and the new one rounds out the extras. I should note that the extras are to be found spread across both sides of this unlabeled flipper disc.
If you have an afternoon to blow off or are looking for something non-offensive for Sunday night family viewing, The Sandlot 2 is a pretty good candidate for your time. If, however, you're hoping for something that matches and even bests the original picture, sadly this retread isn't the answer. No matter. Play ball!
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