May 14, 2009

Written by Andre Dellamorte

There’s something about a strong modest film that delivers enough to be entertaining. Three star films. The world needs them. And two such modest gems are John Woo’s Paycheck and David Ward’s Major League.

Paycheck is, to my mind, underrated. John Woo got the crud kicked out of him post-M:I:2. That film was one of the biggest of the year, but it was universally reviled. Perhaps his visual sense had been copied too much in Hollywood at that point. Whatever the case both Windtalkers and Paycheck were barely received, and Woo returned to Hong Kong.

Paycheck is his Hitchcock by way of Phillip K. Dick film. Ben Affleck plays Michael Jennings, a reverse engineer who gets offered a deal by old friend Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart). When he wakes up it’s three years later, and the eight figure check he was expecting has been replaced with 17 items left in an envelope. But the envelope was mailed by himself. He then must figure out (reverse engineer, if you will) the why of why he sent it, and how he knew in the past what things the future-self would need. Also, it seems he had a girlfriend in Rachel (Uma Thurman).

Ben Affleck’s one of those guys who showed promised but landed a lot of roles that made people dislike him. It’s unfortunate, but he burned through Hollywood stardom (albeit slowly). Now he’s reinvented himself as a character actor and writer/director, and it fits him. He does it well. But he’s not bad, and he’s fun to watch in this film. But instead of Woo going gun crazy, the film is more about a different level of set-piece, and if the film feels a bit Canadian (it’s supposed to be Seattle, so it’s almost a good mixer), in watching it Woo understands set up and payoff, and all the things required of this genre. It’s a modest film, but it’s not a cheater, even if the ending feels like re-shoot city.

Paramount presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in 5.1 TrueHD surround. The film also comes with a commentary by Woo, and one by screenwriter Dean Georgais. There’s a making of called “Paycheck: Design the Future”(18 min.), while there’s also “Tempting Fate: The Stunts of Paycheck” (17 min.). These were both on the SD DVD, though none of the bonus disc material from the Best Buy release appears to be included. Rounding out the disc are seven deleted scenes (12 min.), some of which actually do change the nature of the story a little, others are a bit on the redundant side.

I don’t want to say it’s hard to fuck up a sports movie, cause there’s a number of bad ones, but if you assemble a rogue squadron of misfits and get them to work together, chances are you’ve got a movie. That’s America, isn’t it? Major League works because director David Ward gets the characters.

Here the team of misfits are led by wash-up Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger) who’s been in a Mexican lead and who still loves his ex-wife (Rene Russo). New to the game is Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), who just got out of prison and needs glasses, and “star” Roger Dorn (Corbin Bersen) who’s the prissy one. There’s also Willy Mays Hays (Wesley Snipes), who can run like a bat out of hell, but can’t hit for shit, voodoo enthusiast Pedro Cerano (Dennis Haysbert), coach Lou Brown (James Gannon), and the evil owner Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton) who has assembles this team because she wants them to come dead last. But with some improvements, the team comes together to the shock of announcer Harry Doyle (Bob Eucker).

The machinations are familiar, but they’re delivered well, and the cast and the whole thing never feels like a 1989 film. There’s something timeless about a story like this, and other than some hairstyles and clothes, it doesn’t feel that dated. And that’s great because the film is what it is. You know what it is, but damn if it doesn’t work.

Paramount presents the film widescreen (1.78:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD. Extras include a commentary by David S. Ward and producer Chris Chesser, standard making of “My Kinda Team: Making Major League” (23 min.), “A Major League look at Major League” (14 min.) where professional baseball players talk about their love of the movie, “Bob Eucker Just a Bit Outside” (13 min.) which talks about Eucker the man, and the player, and his understanding of the character. There’s also an alternate ending with Ward introduction (4 min.), there’s a period “Tour of Cerrano’s Locker” (2 min.) and a photo gallery.

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