Picks and Pans Review: The Sandlot

updated 04/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/19/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Karen Allen, James Earl Jones

Anti-Eureka! This youth-sports movie is dull and unfocused enough to evoke nostalgic feelings for The Mighty Ducks.

Its ostensible point is that Guiry, a new kid on his 1962 suburban Los Angeles block, has a rough lime fitting in with the other kids in the neighborhood, who have an unofficial baseball team that plays in a vacant lot.

As an actor, Guiry is on the colorless side, a kind of preadolescent Christian Slater. But Vitar, who plays the team's leader and best player, is poised and charismatic, as well as good-looking enough to suggest that some day he might become a Richard Gere-style idol (without the brain-waves-to-Tibet notions, one hopes). Patrick Renna, no relation to ex-major leaguer Bill Renna, plays the team's requisite chubby kid without embarrassing himself. Marlee Shelton is lively and likable as die neighborhood dream girl, who as a lifeguard inspires one of the boys to fake drowning so he can become the beneficiary of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Among the adults, Allen, that walking monument to bad career moves, is typically underused as Guiry's concerned mother. Like her, Jones languishes on the bench, getting only a few lines as owner of a house next to the boys' sandlot field.

Cowriter and director David Mickey Evans squanders a lot of time with a silly, tedious subplot involving a monstrous. slobbering and often obviously artificial mastiff that is supposed to live in Jones's yard, devouring stray baseballs and boys. The dog story line leads to some slapsticky physical comedy but not much else.

Evans avoids the cliché of a Big Game showdown for Guiry and his new buddies, but for a film that pretends to celebrate baseball and its mythology, The Sandlot bobbles a lot of details. A grandiose prologue that recalls Babe Ruth's "called shot" home run in the 1932 World Series, for instance, mistakenly says he hit it in the bottom of the ninth inning: in fact, the Yankees were the visitors, and he hit in the top of the filth inning. And production designer Chester Kaczenski fills Guiry's new L.A. neighborhood with an inordinate amount of pennants and plaques cheering the Milwaukee Braves, in 1962 the bitter foes of the Dodgers.

Any of Charles Schulz's baseball-oriented Peanuts strips contains more understanding of baseball and more insight into children, as well as more pointed fun. (PG)

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