TMN Movie Review: "Into the Storm"

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

Rating: PG
Length: 102 minutes
Release Date: July 15, 1994
Directed by: William Dear
Genre: Comedy / Family / Fantasy

Walt Disney seemed to hold a firm belief in the power of hope. In his company's films, the wishes and prayers of the earnest are often rewarded with a magical or extraordinary fulfillment. The 1994 remake of "Angels in the Outfield" continues this poignant tradition. With a little help from above, hope and faith drive a baseball team to success and give a young boy the home he never dreamt he could have.

In a star-making performance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Roger, a child tossed into the foster-care system when his mother dies and his father abandons him. With the collapse of his family, Roger immerses himself in the only love he has left, baseball. He religiously follows the California Angels and even climbs trees to grab a brief glimpse of his hardball heroes. The Angels are a predictable but entertaining squad of hapless misfits, has-beens and rejects. Scraping along the bottom of the standings, they are hardly embodying their celestial name. The team's misfortunes don't diminish Roger's ardor though. His love for them is contagious and soon spreads to his foster-home companion, a young boy named J.P. Together, the two paste posters up in their temporary home and dream of better days.

During a brief visit from his estranged father, Roger asks when they will be reunited as a family. His father facetiously answers, "When the Angels win the pennant." In his childish sincerity, Roger misses the sarcasm and heartily engages in the seemingly quixotic quest to turn the team around. In a scene reminiscent of the iconic "Pinocchio," Roger petitions the starry firmament and asks for divine intervention. He drifts off to sleep, uncertain of the answer.

In this film, the audience is witness to flashes of the skill that led Joseph Gordon-Levitt into his success as an adult. Only 12 at the time, but playing younger, Gordon-Levitt charms as the adorable kid trapped in unfortunate circumstances. He doesn't solely rely on dimple-faced cuteness to sell the role though. His childish face seems to contort in genuine, anguished pathos. It's a performance that makes the viewer grateful for Gordon-Levitt's avoidance of the usual child-star pitfalls.

As exceptional as Gordon-Levitt is, he is only one bright spot amongst a strong and varied cast. Danny Glover excels as the exasperated and exhausted manager of the Angels, George Knox. Playing a worn-out former star pitcher, Tony Danza is believable as Mel Clark. These two veteran performers anchor a team made up of either journeymen character-actors or at the time virtual unknowns. Two future Oscar winners are barely recognizable in their brief appearances. Matthew McConaughey and Adrien Brody share the Angels' bench as little more than bit players.

Brenda Fricker gives a warm maternal performance as Roger and J.P.'s caretaker, Maggie. Trying to dispel Roger's melancholy spirit over his father's visit, Maggie gives the boys tickets to the Angels' next game. Standing in the bleachers, Roger questions his sanity as he begins to see actual heavenly hosts helping the team. Here, Christopher Lloyd appears as an alliterative archangel Al. He explains to Roger that the boy's prayers have been heard and answered. Literal angels are now allied with their earthly counterparts.

With the angelic assistance, the team quickly rebounds and races to the top of the division. Knox recognizes Roger's connection to the reversal and makes him and J.P. unofficial assistants. Under Al's guidance, Roger informs Knox which players to field and what tactics to employ. What began as an improbable wish, suddenly coalesces into inescapable certainty.

Roger's burgeoning hopes are laid asunder as his erstwhile father finally surrenders custody to the state. Outside of parental abandonment, the film's only real antagonist is combative broadcaster Ranch Wilder. Holding an inexplicable vendetta against Knox, Wilder discovers Roger's secret and leverages it to attempt a managerial coup. The maneuver fails as the team stands behind Knox. Roger's involvement and their trust in Knox have convinced the team that there may be something unseen at play.

The film's conclusion is satisfying if somewhat predictable. Director William Dear capably handles the finale and neatly ties the narrative into a heart-warming bow. The film borrows from the original but does an amenable job of updating the plot. The most notable alteration is the well-placed insertion of the angelic helpers. Being able to see the soaring seraphim lifting a left-fielder to a fly ball was a nice touch compared to the invisible angels from the original.

The film is Disney through every fiber of its being. It simultaneously strives to be inspirational and aspirational. The audience is meant to leave believing that help comes from unexpected places, both within and without. In their lives, they can be both the angels and the assisted.