"We're going to be awesome for you right now."
"For Love Of The Game" is one of those movies where the actors help the movie to rise above the kind of material that they have to work with. The interesting part of this mixture is that half the movie works perfectly. The other half is occasionally successful, but mostly just comes across as a cliched, formulaic "Hollywood" mess.
The film stars Kevin Costner as aging pitcher Billy Chapel, at one time one of the league's great pitchers. He's still a great pitcher, and destined for a spot in the hall of fame, but on the mound today, it's a different story: a little older, a little more pain after each pitch. The film starts off with Chapel preparing to pitch what looks to be his last game on the mound: he's about to be traded, or he can choose retirement. As he steps on the mound, he begins to flash back about what he's done to get him here, and what's happened in the past years of his life, mainly his on again and off again romance with a writer named Jane Aubrey(Kelly Preston). The two meet cute when her car breaks down just outside of New York City. He invites her to a ballgame, and it goes from there- eventually he meets her daughter(Jena Malone) and becomes a bigger part of her life. Why I don't care to go into more detail on the romance is because it's not the better part of this film.
Costner is perfect as a baseball player and always has been perfect playing in sports roles. On the mound in "For Love Of The Game", Costner plays Chapel with wit and grace, talking himself through each pitcher as he makes his way towards a perfect game. In his romance with Jane, he's not as perfect. The problem is, neither his nor Preston's character is given anything beyond stale and predictable situations. Occasionally, the two characters do hit on an actual, real moment of pure romance and it works. Preston's character though becomes a little too all over the place. One moment she's ready to be with him, next minute she wants nothing to do with him. Either way, during parts when Costner's character is being a jerk to her I could hardly believe that she wouldn't leave for good. Still, I must say that Preston does the very best with the role she's given. But still, it really is when Costner is playing ball in his final game when the film really worked, for me at least. Writer Dana Stevens is more consistently successful here than she was with "City Of Angels", but the most interesting jump is for director Sam Raimi, who comes to this film after helming such wildly stylish horror films as "Army Of Darkness" and last year's thriller "A Simple Plan". This film does have a really nice structure in the way that it balances the current events with the flashbacks, but it could have certainly used a more defined visual style. It's all "soft focus"- the kinda Hollywood romantic film look.
The film does go on a bit too long at nearly two and a half hours, but I think that the performances by everyone involved certainly pulls us through the running time. I liked how the suspense starts to build as Chapel makes his way towards the end of the game, as well. This certainly isn't a perfect film- a lot of the romantic aspects certainly are a little flawed and predictable. Still, I think this certainly is an overall entertaining picture, although it isn't terribly memorable. I sat through the romance, I cheered through the baseball game.
VIDEO: Universal is not always consistent - but at the least, they do respectable work. Occasionally though, they go above and beyond to a level of image quality that's marvelous. With "For Love Of The Game", they score big-time. Images are bright and beautiful, especially during the baseball scenes, where colors pop with strength and look impressively vibrant, with the rich blue skies in the background. The cinematography of John Bailey("Extreme Measures", "Out Of Towners") is beautiful and completely natural looking, and the DVD reproduces it wonderfully, with absolutely no color problems such as bleeding.
There's a few little trace flaws here and there such as a tiny mark or two on the print used, but that's about it. No shimmering, no pixelation, no nothing. There are DVDs that are watched, and there are DVDs that are a pleasure to watch because they present such a natural and pleasing image. "For Love Of The Game" is definitely a pleasure to watch. Good job from Universal.
SOUND: "For Love Of The Game" provides a very enjoyable experience in terms of audio. The score for this film is, for the most part, just about perfect. It energizes the baseball scenes and adds needed emotion to some of the romantic scenes (it's just unfortunate that the two stars don't have much of interest to say.) Surrounds are used often, but not always with intensity - they often add nice touches to the environment. The audio puts the viewer into the middle of all of the chaos with the cheering fans perfectly. Dialogue is impressively natural and easily understood, remaining clear throughout. Nothing that's very agressive, but it has a job to do and it does it well for a film like this.
MENUS: Enjoyable non-animated menus with the score playing in the background. Menus are film-themed and stylish.
EXTRAS:: Although a commentary would have been great(director Sam Raimi has done a few excellent ones in the past), there are a group of extras on this disc that should be enjoyable for fans of the movie.
Deleted Scenes: There's around 25 minutes worth of deleted and alternate scenes included in this section. My feeling is that already, this movie goes a little too long - there are some fairly interesting scenes included here, but I didn't think that any of them really should have been put back into an already fairly lengthy picture. I will say though that I really did like seeing a lot of these scenes and found them to be a very enjoyable addition.
Spotlight On Location: Universal's usual "documentary" makes another appearance on "For Love Of The Game". Depending on the disc or the movie, these documentaries can either be really good, or simply average. "For Love Of The Game" includes a solid 20 minute documentary that takes a look at the "behind-the-scenes" of the film, with interviews from Sam Raimi, Kelly Preston and Kevin Costner. Like any "Hollywood" featurette, I'd rather have less of the clips(I've already seen the movie) and more of the information, but I still found this very enjoyable.
The Perfect Game/On The Mound: Also included on this DVD is a text supplement called "The Perfect Game", about the odds and details of pitching one. Also included is an interactive quiz called "On the Mound" - the questions are pretty tough!.
Trailers: Trailers for "For Love Of The Game" and "The Klumps".
Also: Production Notes/Cast&Crew Bios
Final Thoughts: I almost wish that "For Love of The Game" included an option where you could just watch the baseball scenes of the movie because they are fantastic. They consistently work wonderfully and have some really great moments. The romance aspect has a few faults, though. It's almost as if you've got 2 movies in one - one very good, one just mediocre. The average of the two though, is still entertaining and worth a look. Universal has produced a fine disc as well, with excellent picture quality and very good sound quality, although with a number of extras. "For Love Of The Game" is recommended.