"The Slugger's Wife," a romance linking Darryl, a star outfielder (Michael O'Keefe), with Debby, a struggling rock singer (Rebecca De Mornay), could have been an interesting look at the wages of celebrity. Instead, it's a story that's almost Paleozoic: She wants a career; he's too "possessive."
When Darryl, till then a mediocre hitter, meets Debby, he starts going downtown with such regularity that his string of circuit clouts menaces the record of Roger Maris. But she wants a recording contract, so she has to go on tour. She walks out; he strikes out.
After "This Is Spinal Tap" and the book "Ball Four," you'd hardly think you could make a dull movie about baseball, rock 'n' roll or the two together. But here is a Neil Simon movie with all of his banality, but none of his humor -- a sort of "The Nod Couple."
The moral of "The Slugger's Wife" is that some things are more important than success, which is an odd sentiment coming from Simon, who lives each day on the precipice of becoming America's foremost hack. Simon's humor here is shockingly crude (Debby asks Darryl to explain baseball to her, so he crawls under the sheets and starts kissing her "bases," demonstrating his "curve ball.") Simon seems to think this is the way people who aren't celebrated playwrights talk and behave. Who needs this trashy condescension?
O'Keefe doesn't seem to have recovered from his last athletic outing ("The Great Santini"), in which Robert Duvall repeatedly boinged a basketball off his skull. He's mimicking Michael Keaton in "Mr. Mom," all addlepate and arched eyebrows, jiggling his head like one of those dashboard dolls they used to sell at the ballpark; asked to play "emotion," he just tortures his poor Adam's apple. And he isn't believable as a slugger for a second; he flails at pitches with all the grace of an irate housewife smashing the household china.
De Mornay gives a bizarre, cooing performance, and she doesn't even look good -- her face has become hard and lined -- and the usually reliable cinematographer Caleb Deschanel washes her out with white light. Director Hal Ashby has done nice work in the past ("The Last Detail," "Shampoo"), but he's only as good as his scripts. Here, he never gets you inside the baseball games or the rock 'n' roll; they're intercut like a particularly logy rock video.
"The Slugger's Wife" comes complete with a lovable, curmudgeonly manager (Martin Ritt), but what it really needs is Earl Weaver, who, in the script conference, could have been counted on to do the right thing and kick dirt on everyone.The Slugger's Wife, at area theaters, is rated PG-13 and contains sexual situations.