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THE SANDLOT

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna, Chauncey Leopoldi, Brandon Quintin Adams, Grant Gelt, Shane Obedzinski, Victor DiMattia, Karen Allen, Denis Leary
Director:  David Mickey Evans
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Pan & Scan 1.33:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  Featurette, Trailer, TV Spots
Length:  101 Minutes
Release Date:  January 29, 2002

"Hey, do you want a s'more?"

"Some more what?"

"No, no...do you want a S'MORE?"

"I haven't had anything yet...so how can I have some more of nothing?"

"You're killing me, Smalls."

Film ***1/2

The Sandlot falls into the category of one of those movies I absolutely treasure.  Many people got the appeal; some didn't...I'd wager the ones who didn't never played baseball as a kid.

This plucky group of boys reminds me of my younger days every time I see them.  My friends and I didn't have a sandlot ourselves, but we played ball in the neighborhood anywhere we could, using anything that would stand still (or move slowly) as a base, sharing gloves, bats, balls, whatever.  Nine innings?  Don't make us laugh...we never counted 'em.  The game went on until somebody's parents called him home, and if we could still make it work, we kept on going even then.

That this film gets so much of that spirit right is a real testament to both the appealing young stars and to director/co-writer David Mickey Evans.  Every kid who grew up playing ball will recognize the merciless teasing, the friendly insults, the wild imagination that made every game into the finale of the World Series, and more.  It's like an image frozen in time, where you might even believe for a second that kids never have to grow up, that times don't change, and that the game will go on forever.

When Scott Smalls (Guiry) moves to a new California town just two weeks before the end of his fifth grade year, prospects for making friends seems bleak.  He tries to hang out with the local sandlot kids, but can't play ball to save his life.  At first rejected, the others warm up to him when their leader Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez (Vitar) takes him under wing and shows him the ropes.  From then on, it's an anything-goes summer for Scott and his new pals.

The laughs in this movie are frequent and big, and never get old to me.  Though I know every frame of the film by heart, I'm still floored by Squints' (Leopoldi) move on the impossibly gorgeous lifeguard at the community pool.  The "stupidest thing we would ever do" scene has a climax you'll see coming a mile away, but waiting for it is only slightly less funny than finally seeing it! 

And of course, there's The Beast.  The neighborhood junkyard dog who lurks behind the sandlot and represents the epitome of every ball playing kid's nightmare.  We only get glimpses of him here and there; exaggerated childhood imagination fills in the details for us as the picture is painted of a monstrous, flesh eating brute who MAY have killed a kid a long time ago when the poor sap crossed the fence looking for his lost ball.

Scott inadvertently sets the sandlot boys off on the adventure of a lifetime when he accidentally knocks his stepfather's (Leary) baseball into The Beast's yard.  The problem?  It just happened to be a ball personally autographed by Babe Ruth!  With time running out until his stepdad returns from a business trip, will the team find enough courage, strength, and brains to outwit and outlast The Beast and return the prized ball to where it belongs?

That is the crux of the plot, but this isn't really a movie you can reduce to one simple story.  It's a picture filled with magical moments that play out like memories.  The way two teams from opposite sides of the tracks taunt each other is true and priceless.  One line I'll never forget:  "If my dog were as ugly as you, I'd shave his butt and tell him to walk backwards."  Ah, sweet youth!

It's not quite a perfect movie, but darn near...some of The Beast scenes are a little too over-the-top for my taste, and one chase sequence near the end didn't have to be as long as it did.  But it gets so many things about childhood friendship exactly right, in an age when most little kids on screen are just overly sophisticated smaller versions of grown-ups, saying and doing things no kid ever would.  Here, some bits may be exaggerated, but they're never out of the realm of true childhood...or at least, true childhood imagination.

Simply stated, I love these kids...every last one of them.  They remind me of my own youthful buddies.  Every time I want to take that magical stroll down memory lane, The Sandlot is just about always the ticket I use to take me there. 

Video ****

Kudos to Fox for an absolutely excellent anamorphic transfer!  I've owned a couple of copies of this movie on VHS before, and I was pleasantly amazed by the noticeable improvements.  Coloring is natural looking and beautiful throughout, as the picture is filled with the aura of summer sunshine and a nostalgic appearance of a time gone by.  Images are sharp and clear throughout...there is no fading, bleeding, or lack of detail from close to deep.  The print is in excellent shape, too, and no compression artifacts like grain or shimmer or over-enhancement spoil any of the postcard scenes.  There is a pan & scan version included here, too, but trust me...in a movie where there are nine stars, you need to see it in widescreen.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 audio mix is an equally pleasant surprise...to tell the truth, I wasn't expecting much from it, but I was mistaken.  The front and rear channels open up in many sequences (the games, the pool, the Fourth of July) for an enveloping and ambient listening experience that puts you right in the middle of the action.  And the .1 channel kicks into overdrive to accentuate the presence of The Beast...a nice touch!  All in all, an extremely well mixed and potent listen.

Features *1/2

There is a trailer and some TV spots, and a 5 minute production featurette that is fairly useless.

Summary:

The Sandlot is a magical, wondrous classic in my book.  Nine young friends share the summer of a lifetime, and it just may be one that reminds you of those terrific summers of your youth.  It's fresh, funny, insightful, and best of all, peopled with a great cast of kids.  This is one you'll want to share with your children time and time again.

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