Kevin Costner and baseball…for some reason the two just seem to go together. Costner has only made two prior baseball films (Bull Durham and Field of Dreams), but they rank among the best in his filmography. So seeing Kevin Costner in his third baseball movie is like a happy homecoming. But, For Love of the Game often veers away from the subject of baseball, and when it does, the movie sinks like a stone.
Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner) is staring at the end of a long and illustrious career as pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. After nineteen years with the team, baseball just isn’t what it used to be. Owner, and friend, Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox) has just sold the team, and Chapel faces the possibility that he may be traded (to the Giants…gasp!). The film takes place over the course of the final game of the season, a game which means nothing to the Tigers, as Chapel reflects upon the events of the past five years.
You see, five years ago he met the love of his life, Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston). Jane writes for women’s magazines, and has no idea about the world of baseball. But, the two are mutually charmed with each other, and engage in a tumultuous on-again, off-again relationship that has more innings and outs than a baseball game. Now, at the crossroads of his career, Chapel is also at the verge of losing Jane forever.
For Love of the Game is more about Love than the Game. Unfortunately, the romance throughout the film is lifeless and superficial. The ebb and flow of their relationship is arbitrarily created by the whims of screenwriter Dana Stevens, and never do we get the feel that this is a realistic couple. Director Sam Raimi, who has proven himself apt at creating drama, suspense and humor, certainly falls flat when it comes to the mushy stuff.
The baseball in the film is enjoyable, but the flashback structure of the story slightly harms its continuity. It’s not until the final few innings of the game that things start to really roll along. Yes, the film gets corny at times, and you can see exactly where the whole thing is headed, but when the game truly gets going, it sweeps you along.
Costner gives a better than usual performance as the pitcher who may finally be past his prime. His running monologue on the mound, as he strategizes against each opposing batter, is one of the highlights of the film. Off the mound, he falters a bit, but is able to coast through the rough spots with his charm.
Kelly Preston, on the other hand, is rather uninteresting in her colorless role. It’s never explained why her character truly sticks it out, and keeps coming back to Chapel (beside the fact that he’s Kevin Costner). In fact, at one point it seems that she returns to him based solely on his performance in a baseball game. It’s not the strongest foundation for a relationship, and neither does it make for a strong character.
The film is redeemed by a good supporting cast, led by John C. Reilly as Chapel’s catcher and confidante. In their few scenes together, Reilly is able to make a strong impression, and truly conveys the deep friendship between the two men. Jena Malone is also impressive as Heather, Jane’s teenaged daughter, though she’s in so few scenes that her role seems to be a complete afterthought.
At over two hours in length, For Love of the Game lasts one more inning than it should. The film is an enjoyable pastime, but not a game for the ages.