For Love of the Game
1999, PG-13, 137 min. Directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Kevin Costner, John C. Reilly, Kelly Preston, Jena Malone.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 17, 1999
Some of us thought that with the success of last year's A Simple Plan, Sam Raimi would have kissed the horror films (his former stock in trade) good-bye and stepped up to the plate with the big-league filmmakers. Directing Kevin Costner in For Love of the Game (Costner's third time at bat in a baseball movie) is certainly a move into the majors for Raimi, but if this movie isn't another horror film then I'm a member of the Evil Dead. Watching Raimi's visual style and narrative verve flatten out into this pale reiteration of a middle-aged-male weepie is an exercise in modern horror. And what are we to make of the recent trade gossip about the war between Costner and Raimi over tightening up the movie's running time? Was there For Love of the Game lost between the two men (Costner being someone who has hardly ever made a movie in which the word “intermission” would be misplaced)? Dramatically, For Love of the Game is predictable fare about a golden boy of summer slipping into the autumn of his life. Billy Chapel (Costner) is a baseball superstar, one of the all-time great pitchers. He's been on the mound since he was a toddler playing catch with his father (as loving home-movie flashbacks frequently remind us), but now his arm constantly aches and he finds champagne ice buckets more useful for icing down his hurting elbow than for carousing. In a stroke of not-so-subtle scripting (by Dana Stevens, the scriptwriter also responsible for transforming Wings of Desire into City of Angels), Chapel is hit with a triple whammy: His best gal Jane (Preston) stands him up; he's informed that the only team for which he's ever played, the Detroit Tigers, is being sold and he's about to be traded; and then Jane calls it quits and tells him that she's moving to England. Uh-oh: time for this pushing-40 ballplayer to think over his life's plan. And what better time than during the course of pitching a perfect game? Actually, even though some of the plotting that has him talking aloud to himself while pitching is a little far-fetched, the ballpark material is nicely filmed. The action (or non-action, given the perfect nature of the game) is sensationally kinetic, and Chapel's ongoing monologue on the mound permits us a rare glimpse of the interior workings of one expert player trying to psyche out another. The movie's romance, however, is all fizzle and treacle. Jane is too thinly drawn as a character to have any emotional impact, and there is little demonstrable chemistry between Costner and Preston. And for all the predictability of the scripting, Preston might as well have been left over from Jerry Maguire, because both movies feature these grown-up sports boys struggling with similar issues of love and career. Baseball fans are sure to get more of a kick out of For Love of the Game than will romance junkies. But for the rest of us in the bleachers, this one's just plain junky.