For Love of the Game


For Love of the Game

Kevin Costner wonders why he can't have Crash Davis behind the plate.

(1999) Sports Drama (Universal) Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly, Jena Malone, Brian Cox, Vin Scully, J.K. Simmons, Carmine Giovinazzo, Bill Rogers, Hugh Ross, Greer Barnes, Scott Bream, Michael Papajohn, Daniel Dae Kim, Juan Nieves, Michael Emerson. Directed by Sam Raimi

 

Kevin Costner does baseball movies like no other actor in history. Sure, Pride of the Yankees and Fear Strikes Out are arguably better movies than Field of Dreams and Bull Durham (and you’d get a pretty loud argument from some quarters) but consistently, no other actor has better understood the mystical appeal of the Grand Old Game, nor been any abler at understanding this country’s connection with it.

For my part, I’m more of a hockey fan these days, but give me a hot dog, a beer and a baseball game on a summer’s day, and suddenly I’m waxing poetic as well as nostalgic. I couldn’t tell you what appeals to me about the game … only that it does. Somehow, I think Costner is in the same boat.

In this, his third movie that has baseball at its core, Costner plays Billy Chapel, a once-dominant pitcher (think Roger Clemens) who is in the twilight of his career, described as someone with a reservation for the hall of fame, who has won every award a pitcher can win, someone who has won the adulation of the fans — and of women. You’d think he has it all.

Yet he has been dealt a double blow. His beloved Detroit Tigers, for whom he has excelled for 19 years, are on the verge of being sold to a corporate buyer. The first item on the corporate agenda is to trade the aging pitcher who still has some name value while they can still get something decent for him … and at less than his current salary. The second item is that his girlfriend, Jane (Preston) has accepted a job in London and has skipped a hotel rendezvous because she couldn’t figure out a way to tell him that their relationship is over.

All of this, and the New York Yankees too. See, the Yankees are on the verge of clinching another pennant and only the lowly Tigers, suffering through a mediocre season (with Chapel heading up the list of less-than-stellar performances) stand in their way. Yankee Stadium. A national telecast. His personal life in ruins. His professional career on the verge of ending. Seems like a pretty good time to put it all on the line one last time.

Chapel throws as hard as his aching arm will allow. For one shining evening, he is the Billy Chapel of old. Out follows out follows out. Inning after inning. And as the game progresses, Chapel is dwelling on the last five years of his life, on his relationship with Jane, on the injury that almost ended his career, and on the way a man, so admired, so confident, so great on the ballfield, could be failing so badly off of it.

As the game begins to get into the late innings, the great Billy Chapel suddenly realizes he is on verge of making baseball history – pitching a perfect game, one of the rarest occurrences in baseball. 27 men up, 27 men down, no hits, no walks, no errors.

Strangely enough, with all this baseball involved, it really is a chick flick. The center of this story is not Billy Chapel’s baseball career, nor is it the perfect game he is throwing. The center of For Love of the Game is Billy’s relationship with Jane. Preston does a great job of playing Jane as a strong woman who has been damaged by bad choices, but who has survived, and excelled in her own way. She has needed no one in her whole life  but suddenly finds herself in a relationship with a famous man, a relationship that is deepening into love.

Neither one of these people are perfect, which is what gives this movie some kick. At various times in the movie, I was shrieking the word “Bonehead!” at both of ’em, and to Costner’s credit, he plays Billy as neither the mythic baseball hero nor the aging jock but as a man who has been at the top of his profession for almost 20 years, who has given so much of himself to the game that he has nothing left for anyone else.

Unfortunately, that makes something of a quandary for director Sam Raimi. Is this a baseball movie, a love story or what? Wellllll it’s both and it’s neither and it winds up being sort of an amalgam, and thereby winds up satisfying not all of the needs of baseball fans or romance junkies. Da Queen gave For Love of the Game three hankies; a quiet little weep in the corner, but not a full-out bawling. Me, this is no perfect game by a long shot and of Costner’s baseball trilogy this is the least-known and probably the weakest film of the three, but it still has its own charms and plenty of reasons to look into renting it.

WHY RENT THIS: Costner does baseball. Need I say anything more?

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is no Field of Dreams. A romance masquerading as a sports drama.

FAMILY MATTERS: The movie has its share of bad language and a couple of scenes that are sexually charged.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The shot of Billy Chapel’s parents early on in the film are Kevin Costner’s actual parents. Also Daniel Dae Kim and Michael Emerson, who both had minor roles in this film, would go on to both play major roles in “Lost.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s an interactive trivia game which if you’re able to answer all the questions correctly will play an old short film, Play Ball With Babe Ruth. There’s also a text supplement which details the odds of pitching a perfect game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $46.1M on an $80M production budget; unfortunately, the film was a flop at the box office.

FINAL RATING: 6/8

TOMORROW: Win Win

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