A fan who has an affair with one minor-league baseball player each season meets an up-and-coming pitcher and the experienced catcher assigned to him
Personally I’m not too big of a baseball fan. Watching any baseball game on television is to me, a complete and utter bore. Fortunately movies about baseball can be extremely entertaining, and in this case sexy, funny, and a great overall film.
Writer/Director Ron Shelton knows his sports, having directed numerous films based in the world of boxing, golf, and basketball. He approaches the plate with this film in the same manner a cocky batter would, with confidence and swagger. The film is a love letter to everything baseball. Sure it’s a romantic comedy, but the only real romanticism here is between a man, his bat, and his balls.
Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) is a pitcher for a minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. Nuke has the arm, but he can’t control it. This is why “Crash” Davis, a veteran in the minor leagues, is unwillingly sent to the Durham Bulls as their catcher to control Nuke and turn him into the major league pitcher he’s capable of being.
Of course there is Annie (Susan Sarandon), a team groupie who has become a member of the “Church of Baseball”. Essentially Annie chooses one player and has a monogamous relationship with him throughout the whole season. This season she has chosen Nuke.
Nuke and Crash obviously don’t get along and things get ugly pretty quickly. They fight and squabble, with Crash referring to Nuke as “Meat”. Nuke whines to anyone who’s willing to listen, Crash doesn’t let up, and we the audience smile. The team hits the road for a long string of away games, and Crash, as well as Annie’s exploits begin to affect Nuke. It’s actually when Nuke stops having sex with Annie that the team begins winning, causing Nuke to believe it is because of his abstinence. Meanwhile it’s clear that Crash has feelings for Annie.
Crash knows his baseball, having dedicated his life to the sport, and it is only through his wisdom that the team and the audience have any respect for the game. “Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.”
It is quite clear the three stars of the film, Costner, Sarandon, and Robbins are having a blast. They’re able to have so much fun because of Shelton’s sharp script. Besides a slow-burn ending, that serves no real purpose other than showcase the nude bodies of Costner and Sarandon, the film flies with few rough patches. Shelton’s script isn’t a romantic comedy set around a baseball team; it’s a baseball film that happens to have romantic elements in it. The boys don’t know anything about love, and neither do the girls for that matter. To take the title from another Kevin Costner baseball film, it’s about the love of the game, for both sexes. These people love the game so much that whatever else happens is merely icing on the cake.
The role of Crash Davis is tailored for Costner. As the experienced veteran, Costner spits Shelton’s dialogue with authenticity and deadpan humor. He is an absolute blast to watch. With the chemistry between him and Sarandon, it’s surprising that it was Robbins she went home with after production was finished, a relationship that is still ongoing today.
As a sports film, and as a romantic comedy, Shelton cleverly avoids any clichés regularly attached to these genres. The film is vulgar, smart, funny, and even a little touching. He sculpts a different kind of beast, one that respects the game it portrays, but reveals it’s dirty little underbelly. We appreciate him for his honesty.