I passed on 2005's "The Sandlot 2," fearing the direct-to-video sequel would soil my fond memories of the wonderful original. I did not get the luxury of passing again for "The Sandlot: Heading Home," which, while not as awful as most of these types of sequels, offers nothing that comes close enough to matching the joy and wonder of the first film.
At least the filmmakers try to tie things in with the first "Sandlot," namely with the return of several major characters, now all grown up. Benny Rodriguez is back, now played by Danny Nucci; Benny's gone on to be the manager of the L.A. Dodgers. Squints is back, too, with Chauncey Leopardi still in the role; his pharmacy sponsors the newest sandlot team in the regional little league tournament. The autographed baseball also makes a guest appearance.
But in a forced effort to try to keep this chapter from being just another rehash, the writers (Allie Dvorin and Keith Mitchell, the same team behind "Like Mike 2") offer up a lame twist: Tommy Santorelli (Luke Perry) is the hottest player around, but his arrogance and self interest make him the least loved in the majors. (He blames every loss on his team and worries only about his own stats.) He's beaned on the head during batting practice, and when he wakes up, it's 1976 and he's 12 years old (now played by Keanu Pires), back at the sandlot of his youth.
I can see you're ahead of me already, so you already know that after a few limp "What's TiVo? What's a Blackberry?" jokes, we'll get the typical story in which Tommy starts off as a egotistic hotshot on the field, only to realize by the championship game that baseball's really about teamwork and friendship.
Yet the screenwriters feel there needs to be even more to this, and so we get subplots about Tommy's dying mother, a kid who hasn't talked since his dad died years ago, a team consisting entirely of neighborhood bullies, and a nasty developer who wants to tear down the sandlot. That last one's a real doozy, especially once it's agreed that if the sandlot kids win the big game, they get to keep the sandlot, but if the other team wins, the developer gets the land. It's as if there's some big bucket of recycled plot ideas into which struggling writers can dip whenever they're in need of some cheap story development - and this movie cleans out the whole darn tub.
Which is disappointing, because the film is not without charisma. This is especially true in the moments where the kids leave the ball field and head out to other adventures in their youthful summer. A trip to the movie theater has plenty of laughs, and later, when the boys break in to the abandoned ("haunted!") house behind the lot, the sense of fun wins out. Plus, the cast is charming, ably handling the stale material with ease, making many of the light moments work despite themselves.
Imagine, then, how good this movie could have been with a stronger screenplay, one not so desperately reliant on gimmicky set-ups and hackneyed pay-offs. Here is a franchise deserving of much more.
Video & Audio
The disc provided for review by Fox was an advance screener and not the final retail copy. More upsetting is a "20th Century Fox Home Entertainment" logo that appears in the lower right corner of the screen in a key final scene. I would assume this does not appear on the final product, but since we weren't given the final product, we can't say for sure, can we?
Anyway. The image looks to be the finalized transfer, as it's quite solid, which is to be expected from a brand new product. The crisp summer images and bright, cheerful colors pop in this presentation, although the movie does give off a more "video" than "film" look, making the thing seem made for TV. The movie is offered in an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and cropped full screen (1.33:1) versions, one on each side of a flipper disc.
The soundtrack comes through vibrantly in the Dolby 5.1 track; a lesser Dolby 2.0 Spanish dub is also offered. Optional subtitles are provided in English, French, and Spanish.
Update: Having finally received a copy of the final product, I can say that no, that logo does not appear on the version you'll find in stores. The video and audio quality otherwise match the screener.
"For the Love of the Game: Sharing Memories with Rich 'Goose' Gossage" (9:32) is a highly enjoyable interview with the legendary relief pitcher, who talks fondly (and modestly) of his youth, his days in the majors, and the life lessons of baseball.
A deleted scene titled "Tommy Talks to Mom" (:49) is a quickie one-joke bit about Tommy once again forgetting he's in 1976. Glad it was dumped.
A brief collection of outtakes (2:22) feature the usual assortment of on-set crack-ups.
A storyboard gallery allows the viewer to scroll through storyboard of several scenes. On screen, they're fairly small; you may need your player's zoom function to help you out.
"Keanu & Ludwig's Double Play" (3:11) follows Pires and Alexander Ludwig as they mess around on the sandlot set with a few spare cameras. It's a couple of kids goofing off as best they can, and the "home movie" feel to the featurette has some cute moments, but nothing you'd watch twice.
The "Director's Diary" (4:32) isn't even close to being as in-depth as such a title might suggest. All we get are a few seconds of helmer William Dear making short comments to the camera in his spare time, mixed with on-set footage of the shooting.
Oddly labeled here as "Ripken Baseball Demo" (suggesting perhaps a video game preview), excerpts from the DVD series "Baseball: The Ripken Way" (9:56) feature the Hall of Famer teaching how to land a 5-4-3 double play and how to shift your weight during hitting. It's useful stuff, but obviously designed to be an overlong commercial for the DVD set.
Also included is a demo for the "Backyard Sports" video game, playable on your DVD-ROM drive.
The widescreen side of the disc kicks off with a trailer for the new "Fantastic Four" cartoon that plays as it loads; you can skip over it. There are no previews on the full screen side.
While it's heartbreaking to see such a great kids' movie dragged down into the DTV-sequel depths, at least some effort to maintain the spirit of the original remains. Rent It for that spirit, but be prepared to yawn during the achingly hackneyed bits crammed in throughout. Heck, you can always just use this as an excuse to introduce your kids to the original.