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For Love of the Game

"For Love of the Game" on DVD

Not a hit

Sam Raimi may have cut his cinematic teeth on horror/comedy films like "Army of Darkness," but he shows a sure directorial hand in what could have been an excessively sugary dose of schmaltz.

"For Love of the Game" stars Kevin Costner as Billy Chapel, an aging pitcher for the Detroit Tigers. Chapel is a legend with the Tigers, his arm having propelled them through nineteen seasons. He's getting old now, though, and the game has changed into a big business/TV/free agency triumvirate he and his team owner don't really understand - nor do they like it.

Worse, his personal life has also fallen apart with the announcement from his estranged "main squeeze" that she's leaving New York to take a job in London, England.

At Yankee Stadium for the last game of the season, Chapel takes the mound in what could very well be his last game ever. He knows his beloved team has been sold and that the new owners' first act will be to trade him - so what's left for this decent man and boy of summer, who never held out for zillions of dollars but who always turned up at the plate "for love of the game?"

This is the backdrop for Raimi's film, most of which is told through flashbacks that intrude into Chapel's mind as he's about to pitch the game of his life - all while contemplating his existence and his future.

Does he end up pitching a perfect game, the first of his long career? Will his love, Jane (Kelly Preston), eschew London and come back to him?

Inquiring minds want to know - and they can probably figure out the answers about halfway through the film, but you never, ever really know how things will play out until they actually do.

Raimi has avoided the temptation to turn "For Love of the Game" into saccharine, deftly keeping the film's sweetness without letting it turn into plastic. You get drawn into the plot and the characters over the course of the film's two hours and eighteen minute running time (which never seems long, even to someone who doesn't give a damn about baseball), learning more about who they are and how they got to this pivotal moment in the early autumn of the calendar and late autum of Chapel's career.

Costner and Preston are both very good as the two ships who pass repeatedly over many nights and you really learn to like both of them.

In the end, you come away with an appreciation for these people - and, indeed, for the soul of what baseball is supposed to be all about, but which is all too often forgotten in this era of big money.

The DVD is in widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 and though the picture quality appears a bit soft, this is undoubtedly the director's intent. Audio quality is good, though not spectacular, and there isn't a lot of surround in it (though there are some nice thunder rolls), despite the fact that there's ample opportunity to engulf the audience in the Yankee Stadium crowd.

Still, that's a pretty minor complaint.

Extras include a "Spotlight on Location" (and these short features are always interesting), deleted scenes, some DVD-ROM features (which are pretty inconsequential, as is typical), and some baseball background on pitchers and perfect games. There's also a trivia game and the theatrical trailer.

"For Love of the Game" was a pleasant surprise, a "feel good movie" with some substance.

Who'd have thought one movie could be both a guys' film (a baseball movie) and a chick flick (a romance) at the same time - and carry it off so well?

For Love of the Game, from Universal Home Video
138 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, Jena Malone, John C. Reilly, Brian Cox
Produced by Armyan Bernstein, Amy Robinson, Screenplay by Dana Stevens
Directed by Sam Raimi


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Updated May 13, 2006