For Love of the Game

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In Theaters


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Bob Smithouser

Movie Review

Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel is in the twilight of a fine career. Then, on an autumn day in New York, just before taking the mound at Yankee Stadium, Chapel’s owner drops a bomb: The team has been sold and he’ll be traded during the off-season. Determined to spend his career in one uniform, the tired 40-year-old hurler realizes this game will probably be his last. He’ll almost certainly retire. Moments later, bomb number two leaves an emotional crater when pretty metropolitan professional Jane Aubrey tells Chapel she’s had enough of the couple’s bumpy 5-year romance. She’s going to London. The rest of the film bounces back and forth between Chapel’s quest for a perfect game and five years worth of flashbacks highlighting his relationship with Jane (a frustrating contrivance akin to channel surfing that’s designed to keep sports-minded males and their romance-loving dates from having to spend too long on the other’s turf). Will Chapel go out on a high note? Will he and Jane get back together? Come on, what do you think?

Positive Elements: Chapel apologizes to Jane for not being attentive enough to her needs over the years, and pledges to do better. After a game against the Red Sox, Chapel remains in Boston long enough to track down and retrieve Jane’s runaway daughter for her. The film promotes teamwork and shows how a respected leader can bring out the best in his colleagues.

Spiritual Content: As he awaits the start of the ninth inning, Chapel prays to God to take away the pain in his shoulder for a few minutes. Jane asks him if he believes in God, to which he whispers, “Yes.”

Sexual Content: Disappointing sexual ethics throughout. Right after they meet, Chapel and Jane get physical in an elevator and spend the night together (sex implied). In another flashback, they jump into bed at Jane’s place, a lack of wisdom compounded by the fact that Jane’s 13-year-old daughter is sleeping in the next room. At spring training, Jane visits Chapel, only to find him half-dressed following a promiscuous romp with his masseuse (which he attempts to justify).

Violent Content: Nothing too harsh. A table-saw mishap sends Chapel to the hospital with his hand covered in blood. Elsewhere, he intentionally throws a pitch at a batter, and angrily knocks items off a countertop in a moment of rage.

Drug and Alcohol Content: Lots of social drinking. Most notably, Chapel polishes off a bottle of wine and several airline-size bottles of booze while waiting for Jane to show up at his hotel room—and wakes up with a hangover (of course, he pitches his perfect game that afternoon). After a night of celebration, he helps his drunken buddy, Gus, stagger back to his hotel room. Jane smokes a cigarette. Jane’s teenage daughter escapes to her permissive dad’s house because “he’s stoned 90 percent of the time.”

Crude or Profane Language: More than a dozen blasphemous uses of the Lord’s name. The dialogue is also scarred by one f-word, numerous s-words and other coarse language. While catching for Chapel, Gus uses his middle finger as a signal to throw at the batter’s head.

Other Negative Elements: Jane’s daughter, Heather, was conceived when Jane was a teenager. While Jane elected to have the baby and claims not to regret that choice, Heather senses something missing in her mom and tells Chapel, “She had me when she was 16 and she never had a love story. And now it’s like she doesn’t believe in it.” The filmmakers vilify New York baseball fans, turning them into an unfair caricature of their worst element.

Summary: Costner, who has enjoyed quite a hit streak when it comes to sports movies (Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Tin Cup) strikes out swinging with For Love of the Game, a maudlin mess of a date movie that doubles as a vain fantasy vehicle for its pastime-loving star. Let’s start with “the relationship.” Mood music—which sounded far better and more sincere in The Man from Snowy River—swells to punctuate drippy, sentimental scenes that feel as transparently choreographed as a climactic bout from a Rocky movie. Director Sam Raimi handles romance with the same unsubtle pickaxe he used to make a name for himself in horror movies. Visual cliches. Forced situations and dialogue. And lest anyone think I’m just picking on the film’s “feminine side,” even the on-field action defies logic. For one thing, Chapel carries on a dialogue—a sort of farewell address—under his breath with many of the batters who step in against him. Then there are those moments of obligatory melodrama: Chapel’s special-effects-enhanced mental process of eliminating crowd noise; the rookie who stands between Chapel and perfection (who just happened to be the Tigers’ batboy during the star’s younger years); and the injury that flares up just as Chapel hits the home stretch. The sense of déjà vu is overwhelming. And consider that Chapel spent the previous night on a bender, is dumped by the woman he loves and told he’s being traded, is consumed by five years’ worth of flashbacks and, despite a sore arm, feeds batters a steady diet of fastballs. Any baseball fan knows this is not the modern-day formula for a perfect game; it’s a ticket to the showers after 2 1/3 innings of having your ERA inflated like the Woody Woodpecker balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In the final analysis, profanity and sexual immorality should be reason enough for discerning families to skip For Love of the Game. But there are many other reasons.

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Bob Smithouser