Call them takeout-only movies. You’d feel cheated paying full-course prices to see them in a theater. But as video fare you view distractedly in the den or the bedroom, with your feet up and fast-forward button handy, they could make for a good evening snack. That seems to be how audiences felt about two beefcake star vehicles that fizzled in multiplexes last year and this week arrive on tape: Captain Ron and Mr. Baseball.
You need go no farther than Captain Ron‘s opening scenes to give thanks you’re not watching from a movie house seat. The credits declare it ”A Thom Eberhardt Film” (he also directed 1989’s Gross Anatomy and the 1990 pilot for Fox’s abysmal series Parker Lewis Can’t Lose), but if you were to stumble upon Captain Ron while flipping channels, you’d easily mistake it for a bad sitcom. Meet the Harveys, a shtick-prone mom (Mary Kay Place) and dad (Martin Short) who take their slutty teen daughter and Bart Simpson-clone of a son on a Caribbean trek to retrieve a dilapidated yacht they’ve inherited. Attired in solid-color sportswear that makes them register on screen as boldly as cartoon characters, they endure storms at sea, pirates whose bullets always miss, and fusillades of I-can’t-stand-this-family wisecracks that fly for 90 minutes before everyone suddenly bonds warmly in a postcard-sunset finale.
The travel-ad prettiness of all the sets and locations makes the imagery look at home on TV. Moreover, the shots are mainly medium close-ups, with the action staged at dead center. In fact, it’s evident from the framing that Captain Ron was actually shot for square screens and simply cropped at the top and bottom for theaters (a common technique, since directors now know the TV set is their movies’ ultimate destination), so you actually see more picture on the small screen. And the content is equally geared to the tube mentality, with sequences that break down to three- and four-minute music-video-like montages: Now they’re raising the mainsail, now the kids are lost, now Mom and Dad are stuck in the shower. You can scan at top speed through the movie and follow the goings-on easily.
But don’t fast-forward through Kurt Russell’s scenes as the title character. Underplaying against Short’s shrill mugging, he has a self-deprecating clumsiness that makes the captain’s rote beer guzzling and bust gazing genuinely funny. He proceeds as if he doesn’t look ridiculous in a stringy blond wig and an eye patch. And for the benefit of lechers of various persuasions, he plays many a scene in form-fitting bikini briefs.
Tom Selleck brings much of the same assured, bearish appeal to Mr. Baseball, directed by Fred Schepisi (Roxanne). It’s a better-crafted movie than Captain Ron, even though it lingers far more shamelessly on the sight of its star nearly or completely naked. (Don’t you always answer your front door in boxer shorts?) Selleck doesn’t have Russell’s comic sense, but his limited range makes him just right to play Jack Elliot, an aging, boorish American athlete traded to a Japanese ball club who thinks his new teammates are too rule-bound and work-obsessed to be winners.
Things begin promisingly with the star waking up from a no-hitter nightmare to find himself in a sorority bedroom, but once Jack is traded to the Chunichi Dragons of Nagoya, Mr. Baseball settles into predictable sitcom fluff. Will Jack abandon his lazy American ways and adopt some Eastern discipline? Will he marry the coach’s daughter? Will he convince his uptight teammates that they need only a little loosening up to win the country’s big pennant? You’d be a sucker to bet against the obvious outcome.
Oddly, Schepisi chose to shoot Mr. Baseball in the widest wide-screen format. The tape crops off the edges to fill TV screens, and there’s often no way to translate things clearly. In shots of the scoreboard, for instance, half the numbers are lopped off, so the tally becomes inscrutable. Anyone talking to Jack usually strays out of the frame too. Still, it matters little that TV spindles the cinematic imagery. The script could only be at home at home. Captain Ron: C- Mr. Baseball: C+