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For Love of the Game

Starring Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston; John C. Reilly, Jena Malone, Brian Cox
Screenplay by Dana Stevens
Based on the novel by Michael Shaara
Directed by Sam Raimi
Rated [PG-13], 135 minutes

Within the first ten minutes of For Love of the Game, Detroit Tigers pitching ace of 19 years Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) is informed that his team is being sold and that he is being traded to San Francisco as part of that deal. He is offered the choice of retiring with dignity, but he only has a day to consider his decision. In an unrelated move, he gets dumped by the love of his life, who is leaving for a job in London, and will miss the Big Game. As Chapel suits up to pitch what could be his final game as a Tiger, Cranky sat in his seat thinking, gee, I betcha he pitches . . . [think about it for a second. It's so damned obvious that my college screenwriting professor would've slapped my hands with a ruler.]

It doesn't matter. Neither does it matter that I've laid out as much of the story as I have. For Love of the Game is Costner's third baseball movie; he's scored twice before with baseball themed flicks and his record continues to be perfect with the latest, and presumably last (unless he decides to try on a manager's uniform) four bagger story. For Love of the Game is a much smaller story than Bull Durham or Field of Dreams; it's the story of one man trying to figure out what's really important to him, his life (baseball) or his love. Or maybe a way to balance both.

As the Tigers take the field for the last game of the Season against the New York Yankees, in the House that Ruth built, Chapel sorts out the previous five years in his mind. His random meeting with Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston) and the rocky start to their relationship. Its ups and downs. The player friends that deserted Detroit by going free agent. The players who weren't good enough to survive a season. A couple of personal crises that threatened both career and love. When these lapses draw him away from the reality of the moment, Chapel has his partner teammate, catcher Gus Sinski (John C. Reilly) to draw him back to reality.

It's a character driven story, and the only character we get to see develop and change is the one who is central to all the lives of the story. Jane and Gus and Chapel's parents all serve to mirror particular points in this man's journey; it's a role that Costner has played perfectly before and he does so again. Writer Dana Stevens and Director Sam Raimi has properly balanced Costner's flashbacks against the current events of the game in progress. Even if you guess the outcome early on, the events of the game are so well choreographed that you'll be sucked into a fannish appreciation. The audience I sat with broke into spontaneous applause twice as the game played out.

It's a small story. An adult popcorn movie whose only flaw is the almost nonstop use of songs to drive the emotional elements of the movie along. The sound mix is so bad that the lyrics drown out the dialog; every time a song comes up it draws attention from the story. It was overkill for me, but I paid almost ten bucks to see the flick in a theater whose speaker cones were cracked, so the mix may not be a problem for you.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to For Love of the Game, he would have paid...


Cranky has a teevee critic friend that saw For Love of the Game in a private room last week, and hated the thing. I walked in recalling Costner's most recent bombs, but walked out with warm fuzzies. The rest of the crowd, especially the women, were making negative comparisons between Kelly Preston's role and Susan Sarandon's (from Bull Durham). That's apples and oranges to me, folks. Even with that negative, the overall reaction to the flick was positive.

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