1994, R, 128 min. Directed by Ron Shelton. Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Wuhl, Lolita Davidovich, Ned Bellamy, Scott Burkholder, Allan Mallamud.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 13, 1995
Ty Cobb was the greatest baseball player ever. Let's get that over with. Ron Shelton's film tries mighty hard to be the final word on Cobb, taken as it is from Al Stump's book Ty Cobb: My Life in Baseball, but like the Mets in a pennant race, there's something fishy here. It's not San Antone's favorite son -- Tommy Lee Jones -- as Cobb: he does a fine job (despite the occasionally chunky prosthetics). And it's not Robert Wuhl as the marginally great sportswriter Stump: he's a blithering idjit just like you thought he might be. (But that's Wuhl for you, either Batman's pal or moron extraordinaire, take your pick.) Shelton drops the ball, or, I guess, botches a punt, when he tries to humanize The Great One. Like a pop fly off the Devil's armoire, Ty Cobb (“the greatest baseball player ever,” as we are so frequently reminded) was a 100-percent, dyed-in-the-wool sonofabitch. He beat his wife. He called Jackie Robinson (and every other black man) a nigger. He hated Jews. He equated women with “pussy.” He drove his car like a maniac, and chances are he never paid his parking tickets. In short, he was a talented oaf, a schmuck, a jerk, a fuck-up. So, why this pristine biopic? Director Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump) tries his best to infuse some life into the film, bracketing it with newsreel footage a la Kane. He shows Cobb at his worst/best, and then posits Wuhl as some sort of guardian angel, the fulcrum for the ballplayer's redemption. Ouch. It's not enough, and you end up feeling -- despite Jones' dead-on performance -- like you've been cheated. It looks good. It feels right. It gets the job done…. But there's nothing there. Just like Cobb. Maybe that's the point.