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‘Field of Dreams’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 21, 1989


Phil Alden Robinson
Kevin Costner;
Amy Madigan;
James Earl Jones;
Burt Lancaster;
Ray Liotta;
Timothy Busfield
Parental guidance suggested

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There's supposed to be magic in "Field of Dreams." At least, that's what the characters keep talking about. I saw Kevin Costner, I saw James Earl Jones, I saw a baseball shaggy dog that takes you from Iowa to Boston to Minnesota and back again. But magic? Maybe it's a baseball term I don't know.

In Phil Alden Robinson's adaptation of W. P. Kinsella's airy baseball fantasy, Costner's an Iowa corn farmer who hears a mysterious voice that says: "Build it and he will come." He takes this to mean that if he hacks his corn and builds a diamond, "Shoeless Joe" Jackson will return from the dead to play ball.

"Dreams" is a delicious idea for the baseball fans and dreamers among us -- a sort of "It's a Wonderful Game." But that idea, Costner's happy-go-lucky manner and Jones' authoritative support (as a reclusive writer -- and black spinoff of the novel's fictionalized J. D. Salinger) are the only things holding "Dreams" together. The movie may steal a base here and there, but there are no homers.

Robinson has opted, commendably, for a straight-ahead, non-pyrotechnic approach, depending entirely on character oomph for his magical momentum. But "Field of Dreams," you're no "Bull Durham": The characters seem too transparent for the "realistic" background they live in and the ghosts too fleshed in to be spectral. And none completely engages the heart, though you sort of like Costner and company (including Costner's wife Amy Madigan, Burt Lancaster as an old-time contender and Ray Liotta as the bright-eyed, intense "Shoeless") for trying.

This is one occasion when a little industrial-strength magic, Lucas-Spielberg style, actually might have helped -- by lighting up the characters and making the otherworldly a little more wondrous.

"Dreams" also depends lazily on Robinson's preconceived beliefs that baseball is intrinsically mythical and that anything about life's second chances is a grabber. But, at best, the movie only lightly arouses your corresponding sentimentalities; and you find yourself asking mundane questions you shouldn't: "How did he rig up those floodlights?" (We're told their "savings" financed the project.) "Why does Madigan go along so easily with her husband's wishes?" (Presumably the extended scene where we see her holding forth at a PTA book-burning meeting "explains" this one -- she's "spunky" and "offbeat" enough to go along with Costner's wacky dream. But it only shows what a whining liberal she is.) And, "Does anyone have time to farm around here?"

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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