If replay value was a scored category, For Love of the Game would be off the charts. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched it a million times the past couple of months, as it apparently seems to be one of the five movies that AMC has the broadcast rights for. Or maybe it’s just because the Kevin Costner baseball movie is quite well-done. Intertwining a romance with Kelly Preston with a potential perfect game in progress, the apt comparison here is Jerry Maguire. Only, as discussed before, Jerry Maguire is kind of a ridiculous sports movie. It’s a solid drama slash romance masquerading as a sports movie, in a world where wide receivers celebrate for fifteen minutes after a concussion (and they never even show the end of the game!), where Jonathan Lipnicki has an arm better than Henry Rowengartner’s, and where Roy Firestone’s show becomes the venue for an agent to reveal contract offers to his client. For Love of the Game is the complete opposite.
Practically every baseball touch in the movie works. All the characters are great, and it feels real – the young outfielder embarrassed after a defensive blunder earlier in the season, the old friend in the other dugout who should have been a lifer, and the son of an old teammate just brought up to the majors, a reminder of the time that has passed. Most importantly, there’s Billy Chapel’s (Costner) rapport with his catcher (John C. Reilly), a friendship they turn to time and again with great success. The running monologue on the mound is fantastic, and adds authenticity to both the flow and the strategy of the game. Sure, there are some cliches you could do without (most notably, the lone notable heckling fan in the stadium, the bar patron who complains on every call, and the countless defensive gems), but when Vin Scully is the broadcaster and Yankee Stadium is the venue, you know that the baseball movie is doing something right.
The romance side of things is tolerable enough. As the cookie-cutter conflicted female, Preston doesn’t exactly endear herself to the audience, sharing some horribly cheesy scenes with Costner, while the script requires that she make some obnoxious decisions. Hell, it’s incredibly petty, but even her character being named “Jane” kind of bothers me, if only because it seems so unimaginative. Still, she has kind of a funny scene, where, hysterical for a doctor’s attention for Chapel’s arm, screams out in a hospital, “Are we not in America? Is baseball not America’s favorite pastime?” The relationship that Chapel develops with her daughter (Jena Malone, in cute under the radar mode) in their short time together on-screen feels much more genuine. But again, the romance is serviceable, and it bolsters the structure of the movie.
There really aren’t enough baseball movies out there (except for 15 years ago when Angels in the Outfield, Little Big League, Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, and Major League II all came out within a two-year span), but we’ve been fortunate in that they’ve covered the sport from a host of angles. The game’s mystical aura, clubhouse antics, immigrant experiences, minor league lifestyles, and so forth. For Love of the Game is the sports romance, following the veteran on his last legs. It’s a solid – and overlooked, except by the president of AMC – entry to the genre, so I put my stamp of approval on it.