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USA 1988
Directed by
Ron Shelton
108 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

Bull Durham

I suspect that being American is an essential prerequisite for appreciation of this film. This is not simply because it is about baseball and if you know nothing of the sport not only is its appeal limited but much of the character motivation and indeed, dialogue, is obscure. But, even more importantly, as much as writer-director Ron Shelton’s film avoids the zero-to-hero sports movie template and opts for a more mundane treatment, its handling, on all levels is so couched in the clichés of mainstream American film and all that implies ideologically, as to be virtually unwatchable for anyone outside its cultural purview.

The setting is, as far as I can gather, the semi-pro baseball league here called “The Show”, a kind of VFL to the AFL of major league baseball, of which we all have heard something if only some team names - the Red Sox, the Mets and so on. Tim Robbins plays a young gun, Ebby Calvin LaLoosh,  who has a great pitching arm but is chronically immature. Veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is called in to take him in hand and both men fall for English Lit and metaphysics savvy team groupie, Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), who selects one player each season to bed.

The Costner–Robbins relationship follows the usual trajectory with Costner the seasoned pro and Robbins a young firebrand (although the former was 32 and the latter 29 at the time), and whilst Sarandon’s poetry-reading cat-on-heat character is unusual, it is also an improbable construction not helped by Shelton’s puffed-up and often crass script (Shelton went on specialize in sports movies, including Tin Cup, 1996, which also starred Costner) or by the fact that Sarandon was 41 at the time and more likely to have been considered an object of derision than the hot piece of tail she is supposed to be (although in real life she and Robbins became,or a while at least, one of Hollywood's best known couples).

FYI: If you want to see what this film might have been, check out Ted Kotcheff's North Dallas Forty (1979). Costner would play the lead in an even hokier baseball film Field of Dreams the following year.






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