But the entire plot of this classic film hangs on hardball. But not this movie, not in the hands of four baseball nuts with a penchant for zaniness. But what will he do? How will it be funny? Not that the story should be the main appeal of a parody, just that there must be a good story for the jokes to serve. Ideally, a strong third act not only brings the story to a conclusion, but it helps the main character evolve, even in a parody.
What has he learned? How has he grown? What has he overcome? Specifically, it should take place in a setting familiar to the audience.
That was always really good material for jokes. Sometimes the material almost writes itself. And, it turns out, baseball offers significant inspiration for humor — much of it visual. So much spitting.
So much of baseball culture is seen as stiff and joyless. Just consider the traditionally stoic nature of everything, the ongoing debates over bat flips, home run trots, pace of play and the rest of the unwritten rules. They looked at every aspect of a baseball game — from the perspectives of fans, players, coaches, broadcasters and umpires — to find the bits most suitable for a send-up.
We had the ending first and worked backward. It was their usual collaborative process: One idea would lead to another, then another, then another. One gag would piggyback onto something else. Everyone contributed, and all agreed to not take sole credit for anything. Not every joke survived, but each one that made the final cut was honed until it came out just right. Even throwaway lines and gags that seem simple or obvious underwent intense scrutiny. It was all scripted.
It was a luxury when I showed up on the set. I knew I had good jokes to shoot that had survived a year of editing. It struck him, in epiphany-like fashion, as a big whiff on potential comedy gold. This game features the Mariners and Angels, two real-life baseball teams. But that was never the plan. This kept an LA connection, but produced the odd sight of the Mariners and Angels playing in the very recognizable Dodger Stadium — leading to decades of questions among fans of the film. Some might assume this was intentional, meant to add to the randomness.
Not so. But, as he put it, who cares? None of it really mattered, except to add relatability. It really would take it down a huge step to have fake teams. In any baseball-themed movie, the people in uniform need to at least look like real players. Actors-as-players tend to stick out. In another respect, it was anything but. Fick learned quickly that it was best to just embrace the wackiness. In doing so, he ended up with the most screen time of any player.
Fick took part in one of the standout gags of the sequence when he caught the honorary first pitch from the queen, whose offering had some, um, nasty spin. And it was drilled through the ball. It just went right in there. Speaking of velocity, using real players afforded the filmmakers a chance to live a dream.
I think his fastball was like 92 or 93 mph. I hit the deck. Many of the players in the baseball sequence came from the San Bernardino Spirit, a California League team that formed in and later became affiliated with the Mariners.
He had worked with most of the players on other film projects, so he knew he had a reliable group. And two people are out there having a picnic and then we pull back and the center fielder is catching a football. That was their thing. What begins as a normal set of real MLB bloopers quickly morphs into the absurd: A player gets mauled by a tiger while sliding into second.
Another player gets run over by a car while chasing a fly ball. An outfielder gets decapitated by a home run ball. Joyce Brothers.
But the Dodgers were skeptical about being identified with this. Nobody with the Dodgers recalled Scully being denied permission to be in the film, a spokesman said.
I had no idea what it was going to be. It was a hoot. So I was disappointed with that. He was so quiet. Courtesy of David Zucker David Zucker, director of "The Naked Gun," gives direction to the all-star cast of broadcasters during filming. The baseball-loving filmmakers enjoyed the experience as much as the broadcasters.
He was iconic. This would be an example of the ever-important concept of having jokes serve the story in a third act. It had to advance the plot. Despite the improvisational feel, every one of those mangled lyrics was scripted. The writing has to be good. Whether through scripted butchering or improvisation, the national anthem seemed fair game for spoofing in Fick, the catcher, looks back, similarly puzzled. He shimmies, dances, moonwalks and otherwise creates a massive ump show.
Got it? As the game goes on, so do the hijinks. The filmmakers also take time to goof on other aspects of the MLB experience: Silly signs from a coach, diverse concession options personal cakes! The multiple takes and all the back-and-forth action were a physical challenge. Jackson walks coldly and mechanically, but with purpose, from right field toward the stands near the dugout, picking up a gun from under second base along the way.
The filmmakers wanted him all along, even if the teams had been different. And never mind that he was a year into retirement at that point.
Naturally, an umpire tackling a player — even in this crazy, fictionalized version of a big-league baseball game — incites a near-riot among the Angels. And the Mariners, too, for some reason. Obviously, Jackson fails in his attempt to assassinate the queen. Simpson, shows up in a wheelchair, recovered from massive injuries sustained in Act 1. Charles, who portrayed the queen often because of her uncanny resemblance to the actual Queen Elizabeth II, was the only one not singing.
Like throwing a fish into water. He was funny all the time. Johnstone, long known as a clubhouse prankster who was never afraid to try to loosen up his teammates, said Nielsen was especially good at helping the non-actors feel comfortable and part of the team. Not to mention that portions of the baseball sequence still get frequent play on video boards in MLB ballparks. Add all this to the ongoing TV airings, DVD and digital sales, and the film feels fresh — so much so that strangers still come with compliments.
The ongoing recognition aside, the movie keeps giving in other ways, too. I laugh every time I get a residual check. Los Angeles Angels.
Seattle Mariners. Courtesy of David Zucker.