Sony's Baseball Double Feature
Kill the Umpire (April 28/07)
Kill the Umpire casts William Bendix as Bill Johnson, a former baseball player whose obsession with the game has risen the ire of his wife and left him unable to hold down a steady job. Bill's problems seem to be coming to an end, however, after his father-in-law suggests that he become an umpire, though a questionable call soon makes Bill the target of several dangerous gangsters. Though screenwriter Frank Tashlin generally eschews plot in favor of broadly comedic set-pieces (few of which are actually funny), Kill the Umpire remains an affable piece of work - something that's due almost entirely to Bendix's likeable and thoroughly ingratiating performance. The actor manages to turn a character that's essentially a lout into a fairly compelling figure, despite director Lloyd Bacon's continued efforts to turn the guy into an oafish buffoon (ie he is, at one point, so distracted by his studies that he accidentally butters a colleague's hand instead of a piece of toast). The almost ridiculously frenetic finale just seems like overkill, and one can't shake the feeling that the movie would've been better off with a more down-to-earth approach - and yet the whole thing generally remains engaging enough (if entirely forgettable) to warrant an extremely mild recommendation.
Safe at Home! (April 30/07)
An utterly pointless effort from start to finish, Safe at Home! seems to exist for no other reason than to capitalize on the fame of old-school New York Yankees stars Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. The two ballplayers have been shoehorned into a shockingly thin storyline that would hardly be appropriate for a half-hour TV show, let alone an 84-minute feature film. And because the duo remain offscreen for much of the movie's running time, it's hard to imagine just who Safe at Home! is meant to appeal to. Bryan Russell stars as Hutch Lawton, a precocious little boy who finds himself in a heap of trouble after assuring his little league teammates that his father personally knows Mantle and Maris. Rather than admit defeat, the boy makes his way to the Yankees' training camp in Florida and - after ingratiating himself to Mantle and Maris' grizzled coach (William Frawley, in his last cinematic appearance) - eventually works up the courage to ask the famed ballplayers to come home with him. The low-rent, entirely inconsequential vibe is exacerbated by the lack of effective performances, with Russell and his various co-stars simply unable to convincingly step into the shoes of their respective characters (Frawley is the sole exception to this). Mantle and Maris, charismatic as they are, prove to be absolutely dreadful in the acting department (something that, admittedly, won't matter much to fans of the duo); the end result is a movie that has virtually nothing to offer the majority of viewers and is ultimately just about as needless an endeavor as they come.