For Love of the Game

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There are two rather narrow classes of people who will love the new Kevin Costner baseball movie For the Love of The Game. The first is die-hard baseball fans in non-English speaking, baseball-loving countries. These fans will be able to enjoy Director Sam Raimi’s excellent film techniques and exciting baseball story without gagging at the laughable dialogue. This bodes well for the numbers in Japan, Nicaragua, and possibly Cuba, if the blockade softens.

The second category is devoted love story weepers for whom the game is won when boy-gets-girl, notwithstanding any cavernous implausabilities along the way. This latter category of fans will not run the risk of their jaws freezing wide open as they try to figure out what in the world Billy (Costner) can possibly be seeing in Jane (Kelly Preston) that nobody else can see. Preston plays a crying, complaining, whining, wimpy Meg Ryan without any humor. Billy beds Jane the first afternoon and she then spends the rest of the movie telling him she must have made a mistake. We agree, we agree.

As most of you know, we here at culturevulture.net are baseball fans to the core. We can quote stats and figures with the best. So we recognize a pop fly in the liniment when Vin Scully, long-time Dodger announcer, is presented as the Voice of the Yankees. We cringe when Billy complains of a sore arm but is not given any extra warmup pitches to test it. But hey, we say, it’s only a movie. Some of the baseball scenes are indeed realistic. Just as we believed Costner as a catcher in Bull Durham, we believe him as a pitcher here. We would not be disappointed to see him go all around the infield and outfield in his next seven baseball movies. Why? Because we love baseball movies, that’s why, even Kevin Costner baseball movies.

But For the Love of the Game is certainly no Bull Durham, and it isn’t even Field of Dreams. Both of those movies had supporting casts: Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins in the first, James Earl Jones in the second. In For the Good of the Game you get Costner and Preston, and that’s about it. The film has some important things to say about life, using the vehicle of an aging pitcher who has saved his best game for last. But the plot points are so predictable, and the love interest so impossibly off the mark that these messages may as well be scribbled on home plate and then covered with a tarp.

Billy loves the game. He takes long, lingering looks at his baseball glove. He flashes back to his dad teaching him to pitch: "just hit the glove, son!" He is so good, and so simple, and so naive, and so, so…Republican congressman that you know you ought to want to slug him. But you can’t. Because you know he’s right. Baseball is a wonderful game. Still, you need more than one player to win a championship, and more than one actor to make a movie, if that actor isn’t Spaulding Gray.

The music…oi. Bob Dylan? Shaggy? Billy driving his Porsche and listening to Steely Dan? Who was the last pro ball player you heard of who listened to Steely Dan? There is a particularly egregious version of Paul Simon’s Cool Water, played as Billy and Jane are falling in love. The intention seems to have been to modernize the story, while simultaneously lionizing the simple past. You can’t have it both ways, or you end up with neither. Shaggy. Sheesh.

Director Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Dead by Dawn) employs interesting camera movements and two-shots. The sound effects are very effective, especially the jet engine used whenever Billy throws that 40-year-old fast ball. But overall this will be a far more interesting movie to watch and listen to if you are challenged in English. Americans may prefer to wait until this movie is a mega-hit in Japan and then rent the Japanese version.

– DAK

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