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A League of Their Own

Ah, baseball. The mere mention of America’s pastime brings forth images of fresh grass, sunny days, endless labor disputes and another round of steroid controversy.

If you’re tired of the ugliness surrounding the summer sport, or just need to be entertained, than you should check out A League of Their Own, now out on DVD. Like most great sports movies, League is more than just a series of dazzling feats between the lines. It features laughs, drama, and excitement… in short all of the aspects that make the sports section of the newspaper so captivating.

The time is the mid-1940s and sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty) get the opportunity of a lifetime. With World War II taking away many of professional baseball’s best players, a new women’s league is formed. Dottie and Kit are invited to try out. The make the same team, but when Dottie becomes the unquestioned star of the fledgling league, Kit stumbles in her shadow. Something has to give.

Holding the team together — in between hangovers — is Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a washed-up ex-star who gets one final chance to resurrect his career by managing the sisters’ team, the Rockford Peaches. Though his managerial tactics begin with scratching his balls, Dottie’s competitive spirit brings out the best in him and the team.

League has many strengths. It is immensely entertaining, helped in large part by a string of outstanding performances. The action scenes add drama and credibility to the plot, but the most credit has to go to screenwriters Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Parenthood, City Slickers), who have a wickedly funny line or scene whenever the movie threatens to drown us in sentimental quick sand. Hanks’ “There’s no crying in baseball” scene is classic, as is his retort to the umpire who offers some friendly advice on how to treat his players: “Did anyone ever tell you, you look like a penis with that little hat on?”

Speaking of Hanks, he saved his career with his memorable performance as Dugan, shifting between bawdy humor and dramatic credibility with an everyman’s ease. He’s having such fun playing the character that his charisma is infectious. Davis is the perfect mixture of compassion and moxie, while Petty’s spunk never annoys. And the supporting cast is tremendous: Rosie O’Donnell when she was funny, an endearing Madonna before she went really crazy. Then there’s Jon Lovitz’s brash humor, Bill Pullman and David Strathairn’s quiet solemnity, and David L. Lander’s play by play.

The only major misstep (aside from an over-long running time) is the ending, when the sap finally rises with a vengeance: the players’ reunion, that creepy Madonna song. Regardless, A League of Their Own still stands out because there are elements in it that everyone can enjoy, whether they like or loathe sports.

League’s DVD is chock full of extras, most notably including a full half-hour of deleted scenes (from the four-hour original cut of the film), including the infamous scene where Hanks and Davis kiss. Other extras, including commentaries and documentary footage, aren’t quite as scandalous.