Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:17 - Released 9/17/99

Can anyone else out there guess what Kevin Costner's hobbies are? I can just see him talking to his agent: "Get me any movie where I get to ride horses, sail, or play baseball. And, of course, make it with the babes." After Chasing Dreams (1982), Bull Durham (1988), and Field Of Dreams (1989), one would think there isn't much else Costner could do on the ballfield. But in Sam Raimi's For Love Of The Game, he stars as Billy Chapel, the Detroit Tigers pitcher reliving his broken relationship while playing his last game. Costner probably always dreamed of pitching in the majors, but unlike the millions of other guys with the same dream, he has the dough (and the production company) to make his fantasy come true on film.

For Love Of The Game is co-written by Michael Shaara, who wrote the book, and Dana Stevens (City Of Angels). The story opens with Chapel learning in the same day that his club is being sold, he is being traded to another team, and his girlfriend of 5 years is leaving him. In a story typical of Costner films, he is being unjustly dumped on for not being perfect. And then he goes on to show us that he is perfect.

Besides being so astonishingly unoriginal as to star Costner, Raimi's Game suffers from other problems. The choice to open with Chapel's worst day attempts to make us sympathize with a character that has not been established yet. Before we know him well enough to feel anything, we're supposed to be weeping big salty tears about his two-pronged rejection. I had trouble caring. And the subsequent flashbacks regarding his stormy relationship with Jane (Kelly Preston) does no more to establish goodwill. For instance, here's how they met: he stops on the highway when he sees her kicking her rental car, and her immediate reaction to his approach is to dismiss him as another horny motorist. He says he's just trying to help with her stalled automobile, but later admits he really knows nothing about cars. So . . . he is just another horny motorist. She says she doesn't just jump in the sack with guys she meets on the expressway, but that's exactly what she does — after she discovers he's a famous ballplayer. On their first date, Billy promises to ask only three personal questions. One of them is "How do you like to be kissed?" Urp.

As the film progresses, we see the story of Billy's diminishing talent as a pitcher, even though at this game, his last roar as a Tiger, he doesn't exhibit any signs of the failure everyone's talking about. In an unbearably stupid gimmick, he achieves focus by saying to himself, "clear the mechanism," whatever the heck that means, causing the crowd sounds to fade to a whisper and everything except the batter and his catcher (John C. Reilly) to go out of focus. Then he strikes 'em out one by one. And, uh — why are they trading him again?

The film does have its good points, primarily director Raimi's clever stucture, intercutting between the present (Billy's last game) and the past (his previous games and evolving relationship with Jane). Also helping immeasurably is the performance of teenager Jena Malone (Contact, Stepmom) as Jane's daughter. Malone, when she's finally introduced, provides a satisfying counterbalance to the couple's otherwise boring troubles. Costner's pretend crying is just as nauseating as usual, but he's certainly able to get into these baseball star parts, perhaps because he was one back in high school. Preston is forgettable as "this week's blonde," adding her name to a list of women wooed by this poster boy for the strong, silent type. **½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive