Way back in 1993, a relatively unknown filmmaker delivered a movie that nobody expected anything from. The filmmaker was David M. Evans, whose only previous work was his screenplay for Richard Donner's Radio Flyer. Mr. Evans had been the director on that project at the beginning, but his inexperience (combined with a series of allegedly unflattering test screenings) led to his replacement by Mr. Donner. Still, there was a warm and palpable sense of nostalgia to be found within Radio Flyer; Evans was clearly a solid screenwriter. One year later David wrote and directed an unexpectedly fantastic little comedy about kids, friendship, and baseball. It was called, of course, The Sandlot.
I've yet to meet a person who disliked The Sandlot. It's sweet, funny, nostalgic and warm; the sort of "kid's comedy" that gets even better with repeat viewings. Frankly I think it's one of the most enjoyable baseball movies I've ever seen -- and I've seen just about every baseball movie ever made.
Following the gradual-yet-overwhelmingly positive response to The Sandlot, Mr. Evans moved on to a variety of other projects. He directed the Sinbad comedy First Kid for Disney, he wrote the relatively brainless ape / baseball / Matt LeBlanc comedy Ed, he helmed two of the instantly forgettable Beethoven sequels for Universal Home Video and a "National Lampoon" comedy (After School Special) that still has yet to see a North American release.
So despite the fact that Mr. Evans has kept himself busy over the past 12 years, none of his projects have really come all that close to achieving the winning charm and good humor of The Sandlot.
Which brings us to The Sandlot 2.
And, despite my strong affection for the original Sandlot, I must call the sequel out and label this project accurately: The Sandlot 2 was bankrolled for the exact same reason that Hellraiser 6 and Mulan 2 were made: for the profit margin that comes with simple name-recognition. People enjoy picking up a familiar-looking DVD case, and there are a lot of people out there who really love The Sandlot. A "quickie" direct-to-video sequel would exist to bring in the viewers (be they skeptical and/or enthusiastic about a sequel), while perhaps helping to boost the sales of the original movie. So Evans, along with the finanically astute folks over at 20th Century Fox (all well aware of The Sandlot's cult-like following and loyal fan base), reached into his bag of goods and sold the idea of a Sandlot Part 2.
And I'm sure it feels like this long and rambly set-up exists just so I can kick The Sandlot 2 into the dirt for being a brainless, push-button, in-name-only sequel to a movie that ended up being a whole lot more popular than anyone expected.
But I won't. Because, despite the fact that The Sandlot 2 is more of a remake than a viable continuation of the Sandlot story, it's still pretty enjoyable. Do I think people will discover and adore The Sandlot 2 like they did the first one? No way. But for what it is, The Sandlot 2 sure could have been a whole lot worse.
The plot is much like that of the first entry: we have a colorful collection of neighborhood kids who spend their summer hanging out together at the local vacant lot. Baseball is the order of the season, but there are a few new snags to contend with: a trio of young ladies (gasp!) want to join the team, a bunch of Little League bullies want the lot for themselves, and (of course) there's another legendary pooch just over the center field wall ... a pooch that (allegedly) eats baseballs, space rockets, and careless children with equal enthusiasm.
Since The Sandlot 2 takes place a decade later than the first entry, Evans presents a few new diversions that help to keep the story just this side of fresh. There's a sweet little puppy-love romance thread, lots of early-70s slang-talkin', and the arrival of a goofy would-be hero called "The Retriever" (even IF his punch-line is stolen directly from Young Frankenstein!).
One of the original movie's strongest assets was its ensemble cast of kids who, while perhaps not the strongest young actors in the world, were effortlessly likable and more than a little "authentic"-feeling. The sequel also contains a handful of amiable young kids who keep the movie afloat without breaking a sweat. I was particularly happy to see Brett Kelly, that rotund little rascal from the deliriously profane Bad Santa, get to behave like a sweet, normal kid. But the jewel of the young cast has got to be Samantha Burton as a doe-eyed tomboy who can pitch a softball like nobody's business. Don't be surprised if you start hearing Burton's name a lot in the coming years.
Aside from the generally predictable narrative and perhaps one or two unnecessary fart jokes, David Evans has managed to cobble together a sequel that may have been (initially) inspired solely by the cash, yet still manages to retain much of the first movie's wit, warmth, craftsmanship, and good humor. The filmmaker's voice-over narration intermittently drags The Sandlot 2 directly into Wonder Years territory, but that's a relatively minor gripe. After spending the last several years picking through direct-to-video Disney sequels that pretty much stink to high heaven while shamelessly exploiting their classic predecessors, it's with a small sense of satisfaction that I found myself quite enjoying The Sandlot 2. But make no mistake, sand-fans: if the original movie was a shocking home run from an untested rookie, then the sequel is a solid double off the wall from a resurgent veteran. But given what most direct-to-video sequels usually bring to the plate, a solid double is pretty damn impressive.
Video: A crisp, clean and colorful Widescreen Anamorphic transfer. It looks exceedingly bright and vibrant, especially when you consider how skimpy the budgets are on DTV projects like this one. There's a Full Frame presentation on side B, but why even bother?
Audio: Here's a Dolby Digital 5.1 English track, and (again) the movie's technical merits belie the film's meager budget. In other words, it sounds a whole lot better than it oughtta ... especially when those early-70's rock tunes kick in. There's also a Spanish 2.0 audio track, should you prefer the flick to be played en espanol. Optional subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
Audio Commentary with writer/director David Mickey Evans - The filmmaker chimes in with a yak-track that's equal parts proud, appreciative and somewhat self-congratulatory. But it's also quite clear that both Sandlot movies mean a lot to Mr. Evans, and he manages to spread the praise around quite graciously. Evans expounds on the genesis of the sequel, compliments his young actors, presents several solid nuggets of moviemaking "magic," and basically covers the production of the film in surprisingly interesting detail.
The Sandlot Kids: Then and Now - Want to see what your favorite kids from The Sandlot (Part 1) look like today? Here's a fun little featurette in which several of the original actors drop by for a few anecdotes and wistful memories. Grant "Bertram" Gelt, Marty "Yeah-Yeah" York, Patrick "Ham" Renna, and Chauncey "Squints" Leopardi join director David M. Evans for a few trips down memory lane. Needless to say, all involved look back on The Sandlot with a lot of fondness, partially because the shoot was a whole lot of fun - but mainly because they were a part of a great little movie that's really managed to grow in popularity of the years. (9:55)
The Sandlot 2 Trailer (1:26)
Flipping over to side B (yes, the Full Frame side) you'll find two more extra goodies:
Back to the Lot - Several of the young Sandlot 2 actors join Evans on a fairly slick little EPK featurette. There's a cool little set tour hosted by actor Evan Weiss and several peeks at various behind-the-scenes whatnot. You'll also get a to see a few sequences that never made it into the final cut of The Sandlot 2. (9:25)
Our Sandlot Days - Baseball greats Dave Winfield and Mark Gubicza wax nostalgic about their own days of sandlot baseball. Full of strong messages about teamwork and passion for the game, this is a mini-featurette that the young baseball fanatics will appreciate. (9:28)
As a big fan of the original Sandlot, I approached the sequel with equal parts skepticism and optimism. I was prepared to be a bit "kind" if Part 2 was a disappointment, but I was also challenging David Evans to give me a strong reason to recommend The Sandlot 2. And since I just hate it when a late-coming sequel pops up and mercilessly feeds off the popularity of its predecessor, I'm rather happy to say that I quite enjoyed The Sandlot 2. I think that most of the Sandlot fans out there will end up agreeing with me; the sequel, while not exactly in the same class as the original, is certainly funny, charming, and sincere enough to earn a solid B+ from the Sandlot-faithful.