Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Universal, widescreen 2.35:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC], French Dolby Surround, subtitles: none, single side-dual layer, 18 chapters, rated PG-13, 137 min., $26.98, street date 4/4/2000.
Directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly, Brian Cox, Jena Malone, J.K. Simmons.
Legendary Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel (Costner) has always been better at baseball than at love. Just ask Jane (Preston), his on-again, off-again girlfriend. At the end of a disappointing season, just before what may be the last professional game of his life, Jane tells Billy she's leaving him. Now, with his career and his love life in the balance, Billy battles against his physical and emotional limits as he plays the game of his life. And now with every pitch, Billy comes closer to making the most important decision of his life. The suspense doesn't end until the last ball is thrown in this heartwarming drama about love, life and the perfect game.
Back in May 1991, I attended what should have been a fairly mundane ballgame in Baltimore. I loved - and still adore - the Orioles, so I'm always happy to make the minor trek up to Charm City to take in a game, but other than my affection for the team, there was no other reason to expect a night so early in the season to offer many thrills.
How wrong I was, for two milestones occurred that night. One was fairly predictable, as Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock's all-time stolen base record (and then offered one of the all-time most tacky commemoration speeches). The other, however, was a bolt out of the blue.
Over the last few years of his career, Nolan Ryan experienced a bit of a renaissance, especially as he neared and passed the 5000 strikeout mark in 1989, a figure so far above every other pitcher that it seems like fantasy; second place on the list goes to Steve Carlton's 4136 KOs. The following year, Ryan notched his 300th victory - not anywhere near a record, but a serious milestone for a pitcher - and also logged his sixth no hitter, another figure no one else has ever approached; Sandy Koufax is second on that list with four no-nos.
So by 1991, the 44-year-old Ryan had nothing left to prove, but that didn't mean he couldn't still dazzle. On that May evening that seemed to belong to the immodest Henderson - who ironically had been Ryan's 5000th strikeout victim - Ryan once again demonstrated his magic by tossing his seventh no hitter, an achievement that put the cap on his amazing career.
As I previously noted, I was at a ballgame the night this occurred. No, it wasn't the game in which Ryan pitched - that one pitted his Rangers against the Blue Jays - but that fact didn't really seem to matter. Those relatively few of us at the inconsequential Orioles game followed the Ryan affair from afar through frequent scoreboard updates, and when the news came over the line that he'd actually done the unimaginable, we felt nearly as excited and overwhelmed as we would have if we'd seen it in person. In fact, I still get goosebumps thinking about that evening.
I relate this long-winded baseball story to attempt to demonstrate the peculiar magic that surrounds the game. To be honest, I can't imagine any other sport that would have inspired such an emotion-filled even in this way, because no other sport allows for such enduring milestones to occur; only in baseball can we find a man old enough to be a grandfather continuing to set major records. Other sports certainly have their high-water marks, but baseball's just seem to generate more emotion and electricity than the others. I mean, everyone knows Cal Ripken's played more consecutive baseball games than anyone else, but who can name the "Iron Men" in other sports?
It's this sense of occasion and grandeur that pervades baseball that is about the only thing For Love of the Game gets right. While the rest of the film isn't a complete waste, I only cared for the sections in which we watch aging Billy Chapel struggle to cap his career with a perfect game (one in which no runners reach base); the movie's other parts, in which we see the highs and lows of Chapel's five-year relationship with Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston), which has apparently ended prior to this game, are consistently uninteresting and downright annoying at times.
That's because the attraction between Chapel and Aubrey never makes a lot of sense. Oh, it works on a superficial level, since they're both good-looking people, but to be honest, Jane comes across as a seriously irritating woman during much of the movie; I'm not sure how Chapel could stand to be around her, much less become so overwhelmingly smitten by her.
For whatever reason, that's what happens, and the relationship seems to be going smoothly until Billy has a career-threatening accident. Perhaps the filmmakers realized how lopsided the relationship was, since Jane always seems so nasty, so this issue gives him a reason to turn the other way and balance out her coldness. It made very little sense and seemed completely gratuitous; this guy's been Joe Perfect for all this time and all of the sudden he turns on her now, when he needs her most? I guess it's possible, but it appeared odd to me.
The baseball game that frames all of Billy's Jane-related flashbacks makes for much more compelling fun, although it's enormously predictable. I won't spell it all out, but you've seen this game already, and don't be surprised if the apparently-extraneous details thrown out along the way come back to tie into the ballgame itself.
Still, despite the hackneyed quality of the "big game" scenes, I found myself excited and anxious as the contest progressed. It's hard to tell how much of this was due to the film itself and how much related to my life-long love of the game; I'd honestly guess it was more the latter, so if you don't like baseball, the emotions may run less strongly than they did for me. Overall, it's a very mediocre film, one that (like this review) plods along for too much time as we await its inevitable conclusion. I enjoyed the vicarious thrills of the baseball, but that's about it. (Oh, and we do get Vin Scully in Dolby Digital sound - that's gotta count for something!)
For Love of the Game appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not flawless, the movie looks absolutely great and provides a sumptuous viewing experience.
Sharpness seems completely perfect from start to finish; I never noticed the slightest amount of softness or haziness. Unfortunately, some jagged edges and moiré effects appeared at times, and I also saw more problems than usual related to anamorphic downconversion artifacts on my 4X3 TV. The print itself seemed generally very good, though I occasionally noticed some black speckles and some grittiness.
Colors looked thoroughly rich and vivid, with excellent saturation and no bleeding or smearing. Black levels were deep and solid, and shadow detail seemed clear and appropriate. All in all, it's a fine picture.
When it comes to sound mixes, movies tend to stick within their genres. Action or science fiction films usually offer loud, engulfing tracks, while comedies and dramas tend toward softer, more subdued efforts.
Toss that convention out the window in regard to For Love of the Game; despite the fact it's a romantic drama, it provides a thoroughly terrific soundtrack. The soundfield is amazingly rich and engulfs you with a great 360-degree image, especially in the ballpark scenes; the audio uses crowd noise to a real advantage and places you right there on the mound. All five channels get a true workout during this movie.
The quality seems equally strong. Dialogue sounds clear and natural, though it occasionally gets a little lost in the mix. Effects are crisp and realistic without the slightest hint of distortion, and music appears smooth and rich. The track provides clean highs and some serious bass as well; this mix really shakes the walls. I expected little from this soundtrack, so what I got was a wonderfully pleasant surprise.
Though not a special edition, For Love of the Game does include a few supplements. We get the standard promotional feature from Universal, part of their "Spotlight On Location" series. As with the other pieces, this one's a step above the usual "puffy" featurettes from other studios. The nearly 20-minute documentary
We also find about 21 and a half minutes of deleted scenes on this DVD. Actually, that number's a little deceptive, since many of the clips are really extended versions of existing segments. For example, the first one lasts about two minutes and 45 seconds, but the first two minutes features footage already included in the released film. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see all of the extra clips, and although most of them deserved to be cut - a lot of them clearly hurt the pacing - I enjoyed viewing them.
One section features text about baseball. "The Perfect Game" offers a definition of that phenomenon, and also provides a listing of all of the perfect games that have ever occurred. It's a nice little history lesson.
Speaking of history, we also find a 12-question trivia game. For that, you can get three wrong answers (or "strikes") before it boots you back to the main menu. The game's not radically tough but it's not a cakewalk either; I know baseball pretty well but it still took me a couple of tries to make it to the end. If you complete the game, you're treated to a very entertaining short: a nine-minute reel from 1931 called "Slide, Babe, Slide!" It stars Babe Ruth and... well, I'll let the rest be a surprise; suffice it to say that it's worth the effort.
The DVD rounds out the extras with a decent theatrical trailer, production notes that are interesting though they repeat some information from the documentary, and decent but basic biographies for five actors and director Sam Raimi. In the "Universal Showcase" section, we get a trailer for the upcoming Nutty Professor sequel, Klumps. I really like the "Universal Showcase" concept, but this one disappointed me because they already used Klumps on The Story Of Us. C'mon, Universal - new trailers now!
According to the DVD itself, the DVD-ROM features "include additional materials about the movie, sound clips from the film, behind the scenes interviews and other information." Still no DVD-ROM drive for me equals still no comments about them, but at least you know they're there!
To steal a catch-phrase, baseball has been berry berry good to Kevin Costner, since he made his fame on Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. A long string of flops forced him to return to the well in For Love of the Game, but that well's run dry. The movie offers some baseball-related thrills, but for the most part seems overly long and somewhat incoherent. The DVD itself provides excellent picture and sound, and it tosses in a few nice supplements along the way. For fans of the actors or the genre, it may be worth a rental.