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Picks and Pans Review: A League of Their Own

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Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks

If the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), the real 1940s women’s baseball league that inspired this film, was as dull as its fictionalized reincarnation, it’s no wonder that so few people have heard of it.

Despite its high-profile cast and director—Penny (Awakenings) Marshall—and the irresistible story of a women’s league formed in four small Midwestern cities to compensate for the fading major leagues depleted of players because of World War II, the movie drones along uninvolvingly, as if it were erecting a monument, not telling a story.

One’s enjoyment of the movie is further diminished by the fact that, while the movie is based on the experiences of AAGPBL veterans Marge Maxwell and her sister Helen St. Aubin (the mother of current Houston Astro Casey Candaele), Marshall and writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel show little understanding of baseball. Most of the film is shot, for instance, in extreme close-up, which prevents Marshall from getting the perspective to display the balletic qualities of the sport or the athletic abilities of her stars. (Madonna et al. were coached by former University of Southern California baseball coach Rod Dedeaux.)

Nobody appears really devoted to baseball, but Davis is the most convincing athlete in the group, while Madonna, who is otherwise vivacious and winning, doesn’t even run very well. Petty (Point Break), as Davis’s resentful sister in the film’s dominant sibling-rivalry subplot, emotes better than she pitches. First-timer Rosie O’Donnell, blaring a lot of her lines and mumbling many others, projects a characteristically off-putting loud-mouth/mush-mouth style as the third basewoman who is Madonna‘s most sympathetic pal.

Hanks is his affable self as the team’s manager, a fictional former big-league slugger forced by lowly circumstances to take a job with a women’s league. He remains odd man out of the plot, though, so devoted is Marshall to the Davis-Petty feuding. (Anyone bemused by the thought of a possible Hanks-Madonna romance will wait in vain for it to transpire.)

Even the predictable Big Game finale is short on on-field drama, so with few thrills—and fewer laughs—this movie mostly succeeds in generating a desire to see the 1987 PBS documentary about the AAGPBL that first aroused Marshall and producer Elliot Abbott’s interest in the subject. (PG)