For Love Of The Game

on September 17, 1999 by Francesca Dinglasan
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The national pastime and the Hollywood star most closely associated with the sport come together for a third time in "For Love of the Game," Kevin Costner's latest outing at the ballpark.
   Costner takes the mound as Billy Chapel, an over-the-hill pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. The physically aching Billy is scheduled to start at Yankee Stadium on the last day of the regular season--a game that means nothing to the floundering visiting team. To make matters worse, Billy receives a series of shocks just prior to the game: His longtime girlfriend Jane (Kelly Preston) tells him that she is ending their relationship and moving to London, while the owner of the Detroit franchise informs him that the team has been sold, leaving the veteran to face being traded after 20 years as a Tiger.
   Entering into a mode of intense concentration once he takes the field ("Clear the mechanism," he tells himself to shut off the noise of the outside world), Billy determines he's going to "throw hard today." In his trance-like state, he gets batter after batter out, all the while reflecting on pivotal moments throughout his life--especially his five-year relationship with Jane. Caught up in his thoughts, he doesn't realize until the eighth inning that not a single Yankee has made it on base, awakening him to the fact that he's on the verge of achieving a perfect game, one of baseball's ultimate feats.
   While Billy's memories reflect some powerfully poignant moments, most notably the nostalgic recollections of his father playing catch with him (a la "Field of Dreams"), the main focus of his on-again-off-again love affair with Jane is almost unbearably tedious. Besides the utter lack of chemistry between the couple, verbal interchanges between the characters, whether sentimental or passionate, are painfully trite and never overcome their initial awkward feel.
   The on-field sequences, however, are outstanding. Even the most adamant purists of the game will appreciate the utter flawlessness of the choreography, which is arguably the most realistic in the history of the genre. Avid baseball fan Sam Raimi masterfully frames Costner's impressively accurate fastball and curve to convey the aging pitcher's intensity. The closing innings slow to a tension-filled snail's pace, where screeching liners and ground choppers jump off opposing players' bats, each hit threatening to unravel Chapel's last stab at achieving the rarest of accomplishments in the century-and-a-half old game: perfection.
   Like baseball itself, "For Love of the Game" inspires several types of emotions in its viewers while running its course--sometimes suspenseful, sometimes excruciatingly slow and sometimes able to capture the timelessness of a special part of life. Starring Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly, Jena Malone and Brian Cox. Directed by Sam Raimi. Written by Dana Stevens. Produced by Armyan Bernstein and Amy Robinson. A Universal release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Running time: 137 min.
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