If you've never seen "Bull Durham" before, and are tempted to write it off as another sports flick, I beg you to rethink your position. Let me tell you my all-time favorite sports movie: "Hoop Dreams". What about it resonates with me so strongly? It's not a basketball movie --- instead, it is a character drama that just happens to exist within a basketball court. In other words, where the story takes place is irrelevant; what dominates the picture is how the story (or real-life events) affects the characters (documentary subjects).
"Bull Durham" might not belong in the realm of that classic, but skeptics shouldn't dismiss it simply because it involves baseball. Overlookers won't realize that it's a funny exploration of how people discover their own ambition; the dirt diamond & ball are circumstantial.
The story begins when a minor league team is joined by veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner). Crash has been given the unenviable task of mentoring an immature pitcher whose deadly fastball "couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat". Tim Robbins plays the pitcher, Eddie Laloosh. Eddie soon takes the nickname "Nuke"; Crash decides "Meat" is a better way to condescend the undisciplined rookie.
Let me pause there, because this sound like we're going to get a fairy tale of how a cynical teacher and hotshot student will become better humans by the end of their journey. Thankfully, writer-director Ron Shelton was much smarter than this, and doesn't treat his story like a whimsical children's book. Crash and Nuke engage in some of the harshest (and funniest) banter in the history of comedies; the only times either learns anything from each other is because one just can't deal with the tension and submits. I won't give anything away, but if you've never seen this movie before, you'll thank me later when Nuke shakes off Crash's pitching calls --- twice! If for whatever reason you don't like Costner or Robbins, their perfect chemistry will change your mind. It's been 20 years since "Bull Durham", and both actors have rarely been better.
When this unbearable pairing of Crash & Nuke begins, they soon meet Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon). Annie is a strange blend of sexual creature and muse. She takes one player per season, and selects that player as her mate and student. In the hands of another actress or director, this would come off as sleazy & trashy. But once Annie begins to make her new choice stimulate his mind with poetry BEFORE satisfying his primal urges, it becomes clear that eroticism is not even a factor. You know, when I think of Sarandon, "sexy" is not the first word to come to my mind. But "Bull Durham" convinced me otherwise. Just look at the boxart! But then wait until you watch the performance: it's a treasure from her opening monologue to the emotional finale!
What results from the Crash/Nuke bickering, Annie's sensual tutoring, their bizarre triangle, and the adventurous Durham Bulls season is a movie that is achingly funny...but then Shelton gently pulls the curtain back to reveal some more layers.
I forgot the mention the Durham Bulls team name earlier because they're not the primary focus. I haven't revealed many plot points because the plot's mostly in the background. I can't recall any 'BIG GAMES' or 'TWISTS'. Hell, there's hardly any baseball for the last 30 minutes of the picture! What "Bull Durham" leaves with viewers are the characters & the little details. We don't care which games the Bulls won, but we remember the teammates' weird superstitions & conversations. Annie's teachings are incredibly silly, but she eventually acknowledges how ridiculous some of her behavior is. The three principals do discover their dreams, but in a most unlikely way. The romance is sweet, patient, and believable offbeat. Best of all, "Bull Durham" works on all paces --- it speeds up to make us laugh, and still keeps our attention when it slows down for reflection.
"Bull Durham" is a hard movie to describe because there's really nothing else like it. Ron Shelton has created a small-town comedy that resembles something from Frank Capra's mind. It's as much a celebration of life as it is a parody of it. There are no grossout gags; just strong acting and intelligent writing. The game of baseball is merely a catalyst of more meaningful ideas. But have no fear: there's plenty of baseball comedy for sports buffs.
"Bull Durham" includes the good times of a "movie", but earns its place as a "film" --- the perfect balance of entertainment and genius!
This new DVD won't come out until March 18th. Here's what's been advertised:
* Audio Commentary from director Ron Shelton
* Audio Commentary from Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins
* "The Greatest Show On Dirt" featurette - Twenty years later the cast, crew and fans remember Bull Durham
* "Diamonds In The Rough" featurette - Explores minor league baseball
* "Between The Lines: The Making Of Bull Durham" featurette
* "Kevin Costner Profile"
I'll come back and review these special features. Just looking at these Extras convinces me that the earlier DVD release will soon be obsolete.