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"Clear the mechanism."
on April 24, 2003
My son, a former college pitcher, absolutely adored this film--not because of the overall story, but because of the head games pitchers play on the mound. And to its credit, FOR LOVE OF THE GAME vividly depicts a day out on the hill for a major league pitcher at the twilight of his career, Detroit Tiger ace Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner). My son instantly identified with Chapel's talking to himself between pitches, trying to get inside the head of the batter (What's he expecting? Fastball or breaking ball?), hoping that his next pitch will throw the batter off balance. And finally, Chapel's ability to completely shut out all noise and distractions ("Clear the mechanism," he says to himself.) was very effective.
And those are the highlights of the movie. Unfortunately, FOR LOVE OF THE GAME is a compilation of flashbacks centering around a contrived love story that has been rehashed and recycled thousands of times. Director Sam Raimi gives us a story about the on-again/off-again relationship between Chapel and Jane Aubrey (Kelly Preston), a magazine exec. Chapel is unwilling to make a commitment, while Jane's pessimistic insecurity about the relationship becomes downright annoying. Costner is so wooden in these scenes he appears to be going through the motions, while Preston whines and pines like a high school sophomore. The final scene between the two of them, in the airport, is uncomfortable to watch.
John C. Reilly turns in an admirable performance as grisly veteran catcher Gus Sinski, and the soothing voice of Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully lends wonderful credibility to the drama as Chapel makes a bid to pitch a perfect game. I only wish FOR LOVE OF THE GAME had confined itself to the action on the mound; there wasn't much action going on anywhere else.