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MOVIES : Out of His League, or Out of His Mind? : At Yankee Stadium, 'The Scout' steps up to the plate, and a reporter does his bit as an actor trading lines (sort of) with Albert Brooks.

September 25, 1994|Chris Willman | Chris Willman is a regular contributor to Calendar

NEW YORK — Perched high in one of Yankee Stadium's private boxes, George Steinbrenner is looking on warily as film crew technicians drag carts full of heavy camera equipment across the outfield far below. On a less beautiful Bronx spring day, Steinbrenner might be pitching one of his famous fits about the wheel marks being left on the diamond's grass, instead of quietly making note to an aide to have the invaders trod more gently.

But the sun is shining, the baseball strike is many weeks away, and, better yet, Steinbrenner is moonlighting as a movie star on this off day. So the not-entirely-camera-shy team owner is in a good mood--so good that he's indulging in America's second-favorite pastime: pontificating on the picture business. I move a little closer to listen in.

"You don't want to come out with a bad baseball movie now," Steinbrenner announces to no one in particular, holding impromptu court before a few star-struck crew members in the box between setups. " 'Major League II' was a horse---- movie. The only reason to do it is because they hope that sequels do 60% of the gross of the original. It's a horse---- movie," he reiterates, in case anyone missed the point.

By inference, at least, Steinbrenner--who has almost never allowed film crews into his ballpark--believes that the production on location here, "The Scout," is a horse of a different odor. I'm assuming and hoping so too, for reasons not unlike his that will shortly be made apparent.

The project's comedic pedigree is promising: Albert Brooks ("Lost in America") as star and co-writer, working from a script originated by Andrew Bergman ("Honeymoon in Vegas"), with Michael Ritchie (veteran of many superior sports spoofs, including "The Bad News Bears" and "Semi-Tough") directing.

Ritchie is insistent that "The Scout" is not a "baseball movie" at all, since the film doesn't center on the sport per se and features fewer than 10 pitches and hits. To his mind, it's a sensitive relationship comedy centering on the bizarre, uneasy bonding between Brooks, in the nebbishy title role, and the handsome young naif he discovers, played by Brendan Fraser, who may just be the world's best, and looniest, ballplayer.

But the average onlooker might be forgiven for thinking this to be exactly the sports picture Ritchie adamantly refuses to categorize it as, if only--for starters--because of the litany of famous faces popping up as quasi-realistic context throughout the film, many of them Major Leaguers or tangential media figures.

Down on the field, warming up, is the New York Mets' Bret Saberhagen, who will shortly be playing himself in a scene that ends with Brooks walking away and muttering disparagingly under his breath about the star player's $9-million salary.

"Hey, you got robbed," Brooks calls out to the visiting pitcher with whom he's about to block out a scene, referring to the previous night's Mets game, in which Saberhagen threw most of the strikes but wasn't credited with the win. "Why don't you get the victory in those games?"

"I dunno, it's a bad rule," mumbles Saberhagen, amiably.

"I'll make a call," Brooks brashly reassures him, as if reverting to his Joel Silver takeoff from "I'll Do Anything."

Using real-life, non-actor figures in small roles is "something that I've always enjoyed from the time of my first movie," Ritchie says, harkening back to his well-remembered 1969 debut, "Downhill Racer."

Though "The Scout" isn't technically a satire, Ritchie says, "there are certain satirical elements in all my movies. One would have to say that I always have a feather to tickle the media--particularly the sports coverage, in every sports movie that I've done. It's the hyperbole of it I find fun. On this one, Bob Costas said to me, 'Listen, is this supposed to be a sendup? How should I do this delivery?' And I said, 'Do it absolutely straight.' And he did it--and of course it's a sendup.

"The same thing happened with 'The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Cheerleader Murdering Mom' "--Ritchie's seriocomic, award-winning HBO account of a real-life mother who tried to put a hit out on the mother of her daughter's school rival, and the media aftermath--"when I had the producer of 'A Current Affair,' who didn't want to be in the movie, playing herself. She was afraid we were going to be making fun of her. And I said, 'I only want you to do what you really did in that situation; I'm only looking for accuracy.' And that sat well with her, and she did it, and of course everybody perceives it as a huge sendup of 'A Current Affair.' It's the true thing put in context that just happens to play like comedy."

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