VHS proves the existence of Russian "Baseballists" and their strange black market trades!
On one of my recent video hunting jaunts to a Millville, New Jersey Goodwill, while sifting through a mess of assorted family entertainment and “Big Bucks of the Wild” videos, I happened upon an intriguing little flick entitled Comrades of Summer. The cover struck me not only because it was apparently about a Russian baseball team (?!), but it appeared that the versatile and always solid Joe Mantegna (Airheads, The Money Pit), was playing the lead. Being the Mantegna fan that I am, and also because I've inherently been an avid watcher of all types of baseball flicks e.g. Bad News Bears, Major League, The Sandlot, et al., I was undeniably inclined to snatch this one up. Joe Mantegna plays the heavy-hitting Sparky Smith, whose success is only topped by his popularity and charisma. Not only is Sparky the Seattle Mariners star player - he's also the team's manager! But when Sparky has a mishap during one of car commercial shoots and ruptures his tibia, his playing days are abruptly halted. That's all right, though, because he's still got his manager job, right? Now where would the drama be in that? John Fleck (Hard Rock Zombies, Howard the Duck) also gives a charmingly sleazy performance as Sparky's personal assistant who attains Sparky’s needs (both personal and business) through a series of black market trades and underhanded deals: he trades Sparky’s Walkman for some windshield wipers which he then trades for an industrial nail gun which he then trades for 250 high-quality condoms which are then turned over to attain a new backstop for the team. Oh, and he also got TWO Walkmans in the final trade, so he can return the Walkman to Sparky, and keep one for himself. It's laugh out loud stuff. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (the guy who adapted Stephen King’s IT for TV and penned cult favorite Halloween III) this made-for-cable HBO film is curious in the way that it's laced with profanity and R-rated themes, but at its core, is really an uplifting however formulaic tale about a guy that's down on his luck, and then transforms himself by transforming others. It posits the age-old wisdom that it’s not whether you win or lose, but what you’ve achieved in the journey and how much you enjoy it. There's also a bit of info at the end of the flick about Soviet Union players actually being drafted into the MLB, so the film is also mildly informational, detailing an obscure fact of Major League Baseball.