WELCOME TO the game show "Stop Me if You've Heard This One Before."
In this contest, readers across the nation can hit the buzzer as soon as I outline a movie plot that's been done before. There are no cash prizes for hitting the buzzer, but your disdain will be duly noted.
Let's start with "For Love of the Game," a new sports movie starring Kevin Costner as a baseball player who --
Oooh, aren't we on top of our game? That reader is correct. We have seen Costner as a baseball player before in "Field of Dreams" and "Bull Durham." There was also "Tin Cup," in which Costner pushed the envelope and played a golfer. So technically, that doesn't count.
Okay, let's keep going with "For Love of the Game," in which Costner plays Billy Chapel, a veteran pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who is facing the end of his career --
Whoa, easy there! One at a time, please. Yes, you are all right. Costner is always playing someone facing the end of his career, including that golfing flick.
Hmmm, another buzz. This reader claims that Costner was also in the movie "White Guys Can't Jump." No, that is incorrect. But your instincts were right. Ron Shelton, who directed Costner in "Bull Durham" and "Tin Cup," asked Costner to be the star of the basketball movie. But his schedule didn't permit it, so Woody Harrelson took the part. Wow, you guys are really on the ball.
Okay, let's keep going. "For Love of the Game" co-stars Kelly Preston as Jane Aubrey, a single mother who comes into his life, makes demands on his time and --
Yes, correct again. The first reader tells me that, yes, Costner always seems to run into a woman who makes relationship demands on his time. It's always the woman or the sport.
And the second reader, what's your comment? Okay, that's valid. The second reader says this whole single-mom thing was started in that other sports movie not starring Kevin Costner, "Jerry Maguire," in which Tom Cruise falls in love with single mom Renee Zellweger.
In the movie, Jane is gorgeous, of course. She's everything a guy could want -- between sports events, I mean. But she starts to crowd his space, encroach upon his guyness with all those relationship issues. She wants to talk about everything. He doesn't --
Yes, correct. That's the stuff of every romantic film since "Adam's Rib." He said, she said. Or maybe, she said, he grunted. Real guys don't talk about it. Real guys struggle to find the right words because they're obsessed with the game, to the exclusion of everything else --
Yes, correct. Costner is always an obsessive sportsman, a player's player. This is a cheap plot to get the guys in his favor before he launches into the romantic part of the movie.
Okay, we've run out of time. I think we've established that Costner is guilty of repeating, three-peating and four-peating himself. Now it's time for the Jerry Springer "Final Thought" part of the review.
What I enjoyed about the movie is that mounting tension between pitcher and batter as they lock psychological horns.
Billy Chapel, who learns the Tigers are about to be sold -- and his contract along with them -- tries to throw the biggest game of his life against the New York Yankees. And as he stands on the loneliest spot on earth -- the pitcher's mound at Yankee Stadium -- he'll mutter something caustic. The batter will mutter something, too. And catcher Gus Sinski (John C. Reilly) will do the finger dance. Great stuff. When it's time to actually pitch the ball (an eternity precedes it), Billy winds up that aching, aging arm and says to himself: "Clear the mechanism." Suddenly all the obnoxious badmouthing from the stands becomes dead silent. And he throws.
The rest is hardly worth mentioning, unfortunately. Once again, Costner goes into shy-stud mode as he charms Jane upon first meeting. You know what I'm talking about. Deep thoughts wrack his brow, but he's too male to say it good. But this is a two-hour movie. He's got all the time in the world to play nine innings and reunite with his estranged girlfriend who -- at the beginning of this flashback-crazy film -- tells him she's outta here, heading to London, goodbye.
Those flashbacks will drive you nuts. As if baseball didn't drag on long enough, almost every inning or out of that Yankees game is punctuated by a memory. Most of them concern Billy's five-year relationship with Jane, and they're all tinged with that shimmery Christmas lighting because it's The Past. But no matter how many flashbacks we see, there are basically two questions hanging over the movie. Will that arm keep working? And will these on-again-off-again lovers finally --
FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (PG-13, 138 minutes) -- Contains sexual situations, strong language and close-up shots of Yankees fans. Area theaters.