The Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee, plays host to The Show: Chicago’s Baseball Film Festival this weekend, but it’s really a bush-league affair — and understand I don’t mean that in any way as a compliment, even though the Negro League barnstorming movie The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) is probably the best of the bunch.
The festival was to begin at 8 PM Friday with one of the worst baseball movies ever made, the bathetic, self-important Field of Dreams (1989), in which Ray Liotta plays a right-handed-hitting Shoeless Joe Jackson and not even James Earl Jones can save the ponderous solliloquy on the meaning of “this game.” The double feature is only moderately redeemed by Eight Men Out (1988), screening at 10 PM, in which D.B. Sweeney at least bats left-handed as Jackson but John Sayles’s storytelling is, as usual, stiff-legged even as it wanders here and there. In fact, Sayles is better as an actor in this one as a lilting Ring Lardner, with Studs Terkel equally good as Hugh Fullerton; they’re the best things in the movie.
Saturday’s matinee double feature is no better, with the pedestrian kids’ movies Rookie of the Year and The Sandlot (both 1993) starting at 1 PM, followed at 7 PM by Bingo Long and, unfortunately, Barry Levinson’s leaden The Natural (1984), with a withered Robert Redford playing Roy Hobbs at all ages. Randy Newman’s soundtrack has become a stadium staple for all the wrong reasons.
The $10 admission for each double feature and the $25 festival pass benefit Welles Park youth baseball in Lincoln Square, so it goes to a good cause, but what a painful way to give. Bingo Long could easily have been paired with The Jackie Robinson Story (1950), an especially timely choice given that Major League Baseball is in the process of celebrating the 60th anniversary of Robinson’s groundbreaking debut, and for the kids’ matinees what about The Bad News Bears movies, which for all their flaws remain the most accurate depiction of Liittle League baseball committed to film? And for Friday-night keynotes what better than Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), with a young Robert De Niro as a doomed ballplayer, and Bull Durham (1988), the two best baseball movies ever made? Do the Welles Park Little Leaguers expect anyone other than Cubs fans to clap for this lineup?