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FOR LOVE OF THE GAME

SYNOPSIS:
Baseball player Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) is at a crisis in his career. For the last twenty years he's been the pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, but now the team has a new owner and Chapel will probably be traded, unless he decides to retire. At the same time Jane (Kelly Preston), a fashion journalist he's had an on-and-off relationship with over the last few years, has just told him she's leaving to take up a new job in London. As he pitches what may well be the last game of his career, Billy thinks back over his life with Jane and her daughter Heather (Jena Malone) and struggles to make the right decision about what to do.

"Right from the get-go, we need to lay a few things on the table. First, for those Sam Raimi aficionados expecting For Love of the Game to feature various undead creatures from the nether world, you're going to be disappointed. The film represents yet another interesting instalment in his resume following A Simple Plan. Next, this ain't no sports film. Not really. Curmudgeon pool-cleaner turns baseball coach and makes team an unlikely winner. Career loser pug gets one last shot at the title. Team of misfits defies owner's plan and wins the world series. These are sports films. Almost washed up pitcher has the game of his life and is constantly reminded of his girlfriend doesn't quite fit the formula. For the Love of the Game, scripted by Dana Stevens (City of Angels) is more a relationship movie. Which is not to say this is a bad thing. After all, Bull Durham was a rich amalgam of sports and the lives behind it. For the Love of the Game, though, tips the balance decidedly in favour of the r-word. And it takes a while to get a feel for where the film is taking us. Part of the problem with this is the structure, where after a confusing opening (which becomes clearer later), almost the entire film is told in a series of lengthy flashbacks while Chapel pitches his heart out in a single game. Yet by the time you should be thinking, 'not another flashback', the film has you. For Love of the Game is like that. Despite bestowing on the sport an almost mystical status that has become compulsory in American films, notwithstanding some of the hokey dialogue ("you're such a guy", "for once we don't suck"), I found myself caring about these characters, and worse, getting choked up. Those looking for either a straight romance or sports film, however, could be disappointed. John C. Reilly, who plays Costner's catcher and Jena Malone (Heather), are solid in lesser parts, the beautiful Preston is engaging while Costner's desperate bid for a successful role (this is his fourth time as an athlete) is as ever wooden but effective. As for the baseball itself, like spectators at the game, we become more interested as the film progresses until we're transfixed. And moved."
Matthew Dillon

"If you feel like a long, comfortable sleep, I recommend this embarrassing vanity project - two-hours-plus of Kevin Costner in his aw-shucks Gary Cooper mode as a baseball legend who's hurting on the inside. Will he quit the game? Will he find true love? And could this film really have been directed by Sam (Evil Dead) Raimi? A brilliant stylist when it comes to horror and fantasy movies, Raimi is now clearly trying to establish his credentials in the mainstream. Unfortunately, he hasn't found a way to channel his flamboyant energy into this supposedly more 'adult' - though equally corny - material. Then again, Raimi's style was always built on a jokey enthusiasm for all kinds of corny, obvious devices, and in a sense this is as over-the-top as any of his previous work. As spectacle, the baseball game echoes (faintly) earlier Raimi setpieces like the gun duels in The Quick And The Dead: the exaggerated sound effects, the switches in perspective between Billy's total, silent concentration and the crowd's wild response. There's a related retro impulse in the use of an actor like John C. Reilly, who has the battered, homely face of an old-Hollywood character player, and who would fit right in as a sidekick on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (which Raimi produced). However, there's no escaping the bland awfulness of the overall package - which structurally seems closely modelled after actual sports broadcasts on TV. Not only do we get a blow-by-blow account of the on-field action from real-life baseball commentator Vin Scully, but the flashbacks that interrupt the game's progress - especially the mushy vignettes showing the warm domestic interaction between Billy, Jane, and Heather - could have been expressly designed to resemble ads for McDonalds or instant coffee."
Jake Wilson

"When team owner Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox) tells our hero that modern baseball stinks, our hero replies with a rousing rebuttal; "It's a great game." WOW! I wonder how much time writer Dana Stevens (City of Angels) took to come up with that winner. But think about it - how hard can the decision be for an aging hall-of-famer whoís about to be traded, and whose dream woman is about to leave him? That question is the crux of the film, but HELLO, itís a no-brainer! Director Sam Raimi Ė woefully away from his home ground here Ė allows this film to drag out as a melodramatic 140 minute noble surrender to the greater-good. Itís not all Raimiís fault. In his third and final baseball movie, Costner reprises his aging-star baseballer from Bull Durham. Itís said Costner is Hollywood's most natural athlete, and he comes across well as the Ďmisunderstood hero Ďof Field of Dreams, Tin Cup, Waterworld, Wyatt Earp, The Untouchables, JFK, and Dances with Wolves. Perhaps he should stick to that rather than the gushy roles of The Bodyguard, Message in a Bottle, and most of this film. He perpetually teeters on the verge of tears here, and gives a humourless, self-centered performance. Try A Perfect World or The War for something more engrossing. Kelly Preston is fine in a role that would have been tailor made for Meg Ryan or Michelle Pfeiffer some years ago. Thatís where this film should have been too, for the sepia-toned flashbacks lack the polish and shine of most films today. Basil Poledouris throws an overbearing score down our throat and the supporting characters seem there to prop up the two stars. John C Reilly is a shining light as Costnerís laconic catcher, and Jena Malone adds a touch of reality to the film in her portrayal of the daughter Jane had at age 16. Perhaps the biggest scam of this film is that itís promoted as a baseball movie, where itís really a romance. And while the baseball segments are much more engaging, this is still a fly-ball, not a home run.
Shannon J. Harvey

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

TRAILER

FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (M)
(US)

CAST: Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly, Jena Malone, Brian Cox, J.K. Simmons, Vin Scully, Bill Rogers, Hugh Ross

PRODUCERS: Armyan Bernstein, Amy Robinson

DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi

SCRIPT: Dana Stevens (from the novel by Michael Shaara)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Bailey

EDITOR: Eric L. Beason, Arthur Coburn

MUSIC: Basil Poledouris

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Neil Spisak

RUNNING TIME: 137 min

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal International Pictures

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 25, 2000

VIDEO RELEASE: October 9, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Home Entertainment







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