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MOVIE REVIEWS : ‘The Sandlot': A Grand Slam of Cliches

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The kids in “The Sandlot” (citywide) are so fresh-scrubbed and perky that they might as well be plugging something in a commercial--fabric softener, say, or peanut butter. In a way, they are plugging a product--all-American wholesomeness.

This is one of those kids’ films that takes everything to do with childhood and turns it into high concept. It’s about what happens to the new kid on the block, Scotty (Tom Guiry), when he joins the neighborhood’s eight-man sandlot team during the summer of ’62.

Right away we’re primed: This is going to be a movie about (a) a boy’s coming of age, (b) baseball as a boy’s birthright and (c) our lost innocence. This “Field of Dreams” field has been plowed so many times that the land is no longer arable. Isn’t it time to cultivate a few new cliches?

The ‘60s atmosphere is strictly out of the cookbook: Oldies on the soundtrack, Coca-Cola signs, Edsels. The nine kids are selected to be a cultural cross-section--among them one black kid (Brandon Adams), a chubby kid (Patrick Renna), a bespectacled nerd (Grant Gelt), and their leader, Benny (The Jet) Rodriguez (Mike Vitar). The effect is a bit like “Our Gang” for the Spielberg era.

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The kids even have their own treehouse, which means that the production designer is the only person connected with this project who actually went out on a limb.

Scotty is initially presented as an egghead who can’t play baseball and doesn’t even know who Babe Ruth is. (This is typical movie stereotyping; brainy grade-schoolers are actually more likely to know a ballplayer’s every stat than the sandlot sluggers.) He also has problems with his stepfather (Denis Leary) that are never dramatically explored. The father is basically in the movie to provide the prop that propels the film’s second half, when his treasured baseball autographed by Ruth finds itself in the dangerous precincts of the local junkyard dog.

David Mickey Evans, who co-wrote and directed (it’s his first feature), has a gift for shamelessness--his previous kidfest “Radio Flyer,” which he scripted, had an even higher stack of high concepts than “The Sandlot.” He pulls out so many stops that every once in a great while something hits. There’s a funny gross-out scene with the kids chewing tobacco and then taking a nauseating ride on a whirlybird amusement park ride; one of the child actors, Chauncey Leopardi, is a gifted ham, and his scene with a curvaceous blond lifeguard is a hoot.

If Leopardi’s character had been the movie’s centerpiece instead of the starched Scotty, “The Sandlot” (rated PG for language and tobacco chewing) might have kicked up some much-needed dust. But Scotty is a dim Everyboy. Didn’t the filmmakers even notice that he looks like an 11-year-old Eddie Haskell?

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‘The Sandlot’ Tom Guiry: Scotty Smalls Mike Vitar: Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez Patrick Renna: Hamilton (Ham) Porter Chauncey Leopardi: Michael (Squints) Palledorous

A 20th Century Fox presentation in association with Island World. Director David Mickey Evans. Producers Dale de la Torre and William S. Gilmore. Executive producers Mark Burg and Chris Zarpas. Screenplay David Mickey Evans and Robert Gunter. Cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond. Editor Michael A. Stevenson. Costumes Grania Preston. Music David Newman. Production design Chester Kaczenski. Art director Marc Dabe. Set decorator Judi Sandin. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

MPAA-rated PG.


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