Kevin Costner in For Love of the game.
When it comes to playing aging athletes, Kevin Costner was the go to guy for a while. He has the man's man charm and yet he appeals to the ladies as well, and he had the build and ability to make you believe he really could be an athlete. Bull Durham was his successful baseball romantic comedy and with For Love of the Game he tried to make a baseball romantic drama. Although there are some entertaining moments, he definitely doesn't come close to equaling his earlier success.
Costner plays Billy Chapel, a star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers whose best years are behind him. He's due to pitch a meaningless last game of a losing season in New York against the Yankees. The morning of the game he learns that Jane, his long time girlfriend, is breaking up with him to move to London. To make the day even worse, he is told that the owner of the Tigers is selling the team and the new owners first order of business will be to trade away his expensive contract (Surely a star of his supposed stature would have a no-trade clause in his contract?).
The rest of the movie takes place with Billy on the mound, with flashbacks interspersed between the innings of his relationship with Jane. We see how they met, how their relationship matured, weathered stormy times, and finally disintegrated. As the game wears on, almost without the distracted Billy being aware of it, he starts throwing a perfect game. But does Billy have enough gas left in the tank to finish it? And what will he do for love of the game and for love of a woman?
Where in Bull Durham, it was the relationships that made the movie, here in this movie it is definitely the scenes of baseball that are the most entertaining. Billy talks to himself on the mound and reminisces about some of the players on his and the opposing team. Even though because this is a Hollywood movie, you know how it will end, the suspense of whether or not he will finish pitching the game, is still quite good. I felt more emotion in the final inning as he and his team struggle to get the final outs than I ever did about his and Jane's relationship.
And at over 2 hours, a tighter editing job was really needed. They should have cut way back on the scenes between Jane and Billy. There's just not enough spark between the two of them. And it's not a fault of Costner or Preston. The writing just isn't good enough to provide any chemistry. There's better chemistery between Billy and his catcher (John C. Reilly) than there is between him and her.
I also have to admit that I didn't enjoy having to root against my beloved Yankees in the movie either. Although I did enjoy the moment when Billy is booed so rudely and vehemently that he mutters to himself, "I can always tell when I'm in New York." I didn't find it realistic though that the fans in the stands kept berating him so deeply into the perfect game. New York fans know enough to respect a perfect game. If Billy was pitching for the Sox than yeah, I could see the fans booing him all the way through, but not against a Detroit team on the final day of the season when Detroit is already out of contention.
If someone edited out all of the flashbacks and just kept the baseball scenes, you might have a pretty enjoyable (and short) movie. All the dull and rather heavy romance just drags down the pace. It's called For Love of the Game after all and not For Love of Jane.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (1999)