Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Bull Durham.”
The Movie: “Bull Durham”
Starring: Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins
Director: Ron Shelton
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) 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.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 97 percent
Brown: So in last week’s review of “Mr. Baseball,” I said this after Froemming named a bunch of baseball movies: “Kudos to you, Froemming, for mentioning all these baseball movies and somehow avoiding half of Kevin Costner’s movies.”
So, it’s about time we got to a Kevin Costner baseball movie. And for a lot of people I know, the pinnacle of baseball movies.
Here’s the rundown: “Field of Dreams”; “Draft Day”; “Tin Cup”; “Bull Durham”; “McFarland USA”; “For the Love of the Game”; and “American Flyers.”
So this week, we’re doing “Bull Durham,” Costner’s first baseball movie and perhaps his most revered baseball movie. And it’s a movie that, despite being a 34-year-old sports reporter, I have never seen in full. I knew most of the memorable scenes since, again, being around sports all the damn time.
And, this is one of those famous movies that is meant to con boyfriends/husbands into what looks like a sports movie but is actually a romantic comedy. So we have this to blame for “Jerry Maguire.”
So before we announce our presence with authority, give us your first thoughts, Froemming.
Froemming: I hated this movie.
I was seething with anger the whole time. Something about this movie rubbed me the wrong way. Am I a weirdo for hating what is generally considered one of the best sports movies ever made?
No, no you weirdos who think this dumpster fire of a movie is good — you are the wrong ones.
Where to begin? The unlikable characters? The fact Costner is somehow as charismatic as an old dish towel in this? The preachy nonsense from the Annie character? Tim Robbins looking like he is punch drunk the whole time?
All of these things filled me with a dark rage. It has been a long time since a JOE-DOWN project got me this upset.
Brown, as I read Walt Whitman to a bondaged-up Nuke, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: We start this movie off with Annie (Sarandon) giving this long voiceover about how she worships at “the church of baseball,” and immediately, I was annoyed with how sanctimonious this movie is.
Sure, like baseball all you want, but don’t treat it like religion. It’s grown men swinging a stick and wearing uniforms like the world’s most entertaining fascists. I like baseball, but when you spell it out…
During this voiceover, Annie also mentions that every year, she picks a player from the minor-league Durham Bulls to have a fling with. Yes, she sleeps with said player, but she also tries to spiritually enlighten every player she’s with because… honestly, who the (REDACTED) knows.
Froemming: I like her sexual freedom and think that was a great thing to display, especially when this movie came out.
Brown: No argument here.
Froemming: But tying a man to your bed to read bum poetry to them instead of having a good old sex romp? I think this is why red states think liberals like Susan Sarandon are crazy people.
Annie picks her new man for the year, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” Laloosh, who has one hell of an arm, but can’t really focus where the ball goes. He is all over the map during his first game, which made me think the coach was pretty bad at his job getting some clown like this to be on the team.
Nuke needs guidance. And so enter “Crash” Davis, a veteran minor league player who I swear was almost always on the verge of saying “I’m too old for this shit” like Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon.”
Brown: So throughout the movie, Nuke (who gets his nickname after his first night with Annie) is described as having a million-dollar arm and a five-cent brain. And honestly, his manager also has a five-cent brain for keeping Nuke in his first game as long as he did. Aside from seeing Nuke bumping uglies with Millie, Annie’s friend and someone who definitely seems like jailbait, five minutes before the game, Nuke walks 18 and strikes out 18 in his first game.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that he struck out every batter in three pitches and watched everyone in four pitches, he threw, at minimum, 126 pitches.
Hey Skip, you know what ruins young arms? Overuse. Whatever big-league team has the Bulls as a minor-league affiliate NEEDS to fire this dude immediately before Nuke blows out his arm at 23.
Froemming: Skip’s partner is played by Robert Wuhl, so I am going to shoehorn this clip.
So they bring in Crash to help guide this kid, which sure. He is pretty worthless as a player and at his age, being a catcher has to be hell on the knees. But he is not happy about his role in the club.
Now, we see Nuke giving what we would call in our line of work a “bizarre interview” to the local media. And it made me wish every athlete Brown interviews was exactly like this. Nuke is just all spaced out. I think he may have been to a Grateful Dead concert before he sat down with this poor sports reporter.
Brown: I interview high school teams all the time, so I don’t get quality stuff like Nuke. Honestly, with how much kids see pro athletes give interviews and with being on social media all the time, even teenagers are more media savvy than Nuke.
Also, he dances like Elaine from “Seinfeld.”
And you can’t really say that Crash is a bad player. We find out he’s on the verge of breaking the career minor-league record for home runs. He’s someone who is good enough to be on the cusp of a major league team but is just missing something.
Froemming: He is missing talent. The talent required for major league baseball. And frankly, that record would be more impressive if he wasn’t in the minors for 50 years.
Brown: He’s still being paid to play a game. I’d be OK with being Crash Davis. Mostly because I want to make Tim Robbins’ life difficult.
Nuke and Crash’s first meeting is tumultuous. They’re both pursuing Annie, so hot-headed Nuke challenges Crash to a fight. Instead, Crash throws Nuke a ball and tells him to throw it in his chest. Nuke’s throw is more off-target than Dr. Anthony Fauci’s first pitch.
Froemming: There was not a huge space between these two. My theory: Crash wanted Nuke to kill him with the baseball, and Nuke somehow screwed up this suicide-by-murder plot of Crash’s. It also explains why he is pissed off for the rest of the movie.
Brown: Eventually, Annie brings both guys home to decide who’ll be next to her on those summer nights.
Crash, he’s not gonna deal with this shit. So, when Annie asks Crash what he believes, we get a monologue that every high school friend I had that played baseball put in either their AIM profile or later, Facebook profile. This is the male version of that Marilyn Monroe “You don’t deserve me at my best” quote.
Honestly, this speech is just more of this movie being up its own ass. PEOPLE DON’T TALK LIKE THIS!
Froemming: “After 12 years in the minors, I don’t try out.” Probably why you never made the big time, buddy.
Also, what kind of people go home with a woman to try out for a night of sex? That just seems weird to me. Like, have some self-respect, people.
Crash leaves, which is what I would have done if I found myself in a strange and uncomfortable situation like that, leaving Nuke with Annie with a bondage-filled night of poetry.
Again, this is probably why red states think liberals like Susan Sarandon are crazy people.
Brown: Annie is the leader of Antifa.
In their own weird ways, both Crash and Annie are molding the hot-headed Nuke. Annie even gives Crash batting advice, which I’m pretty sure he writes a note to her saying to (REDACTED) off, which is what any pro athlete would do.
The best moment of all this: Crash tipping off Nuke’s fastball for shaking off his call. Hey Tim, if you would listen to Crash Davis, perhaps you wouldn’t have ended up Shawshank.
I want a shirt with that “Hit Bull, Win Steak” ad.
Froemming: Yeah, Crash’s advice for the game is basically quit overthinking everything, which clashes with Annie’s whole thing about thinking about things.
I did enjoy Crash giving the batter what pitch was coming out of spite. Also, Crash is a terrible teammate for pulling stuff like this. There are more people on the team than just Crash and Nuke.
Also, Annie calls out Crash’s name during her sex romp with Nuke. Which is a pretty terrible thing to do. That was just as upsetting to me as Nuke’s shower shoes.
Brown: Nuke deserves to be chastised for wearing those disgusting shower shoes.
Annie keeps doling out advice, like for Nuke to look up to the sky as he’s throwing like former LA Dodger standout Fernando Valenzuela and “breathe through your eyelids” like a lizard or some nonsense.
Froemming: She wants him to be more like Robert California!
Brown: Look, I get Annie is doing what Crash is doing by telling Nuke to quit overthinking. I just hate her brand of community college philosophy.
She also convinces Nuke to throw with garters on because why the (REDACTED) not?
Froemming: This movie cements why I will never understand sports. Pitchers sporting lingerie to throw better? I mean sure, if it works, I just don’t get the science behind this.
Also, the team is called the Durham Bulls, why is the movie called “Bull Durham?”
Brown: I don’t have an answer to that question; it’s bugged me for years. Also, what time period does this movie take place?
Froemming: Based off Nuke’s Iron Maiden and Fishbone shirts, the late 1980s?
Brown: Fair point. I think with Crash dressing like he just got back from the Korean War and Annie’s house and dress made me think she was the origin story of Blanche Devereaux from “The Golden Girls,” I thought it was in the ‘50s.
Froemming: I did as well, even the bus they use on the road looks ancient. But Nuke’s shirts tell me otherwise.
Speaking of, the team that is called the Durham Bulls, not Bull Durham which is the title of the movie for some reason, are heading on a 12-day road trip. This is where the garters come into play, and it gives Crash and Nuke some time to work together so the latter can have an amazing career in the majors while the former travels the country like Jack Kerouac looking for leagues to play in.
Brown: One of those things is giving cliche interviews. And yep, this is my life. I hate this movie for making me take a look in a mirror like this.
After starting off the season slow, the Bulls are rolling and put together a long win streak. During that time, Nuke and Annie haven’t been sleeping together and with baseball being the superstitious bunch they are, Crash convinces Nuke to continue to dry spell because you “Never (REDACTED) with a winning streak.”
Along with helping Nuke, Crash helps the rest of the team in knowing not to squander their opportunity in the bigs. See, he did have his cup of coffee in the majors. Twenty-one of the greatest days of his life. Yeah, it’s the sad truth of baseball: You work your way through the minors and not everyone makes it.
Nuke, he’ll get every chance to make it. Crash, his time is gone. Most of the other players on the Bulls, there’ll be more Crashes than Nukes.
As far as a story about minor-league baseball, this movie works really well. Now, when it tries to be philosophical about the ways of the universe, that’s where this movie loses me.
Froemming: This movie lost me from the start. I don’t care about any of these characters. They are all pretty much pricks. Pile on “baseball as religion” to that, I wanted nothing more than this movie to end.
So, Nuke abstaining from sex is really buggin’ Annie. Which, I mean, I get that. But trying to seduce Nuke in the kitchen over breakfast was just sad to see. Man, this movie just bummed me out the whole time.
Anywho, Annie tries her hand at helping Nuke with his pitching as well with Millie. He is afraid he will hurt the woman catching, but is assured she will be just fine.
Unless, you know, one of those unpredictable throws of his hits her in the head, killing her on the spot.
Brown: I’m not worried about Millie. Nuke can’t hit his spots. Hell, the one person I’m surprised isn’t dead is the mascot for the Bulls, whom at one point Crash directs Nuke to hit him as to spook the batter for being unpredictable.
That’s assault, brotha’. Hell, with it being premeditated, would that be murder on Crash’s part? We here at the JOE-DOWN are not lawyers but I’d be legit curious.
Also, with how my brain works, in rewatching that clip, I’m distracted by the radio broadcaster talking like Dusty Rhodes. He should have gone off about the Bulls goin’ through hard times.
Froemming: The announcer has a face for radio and a voice for the deaf. He also reminded me of Boomhauer from “King of the Hill.”
Brown: Meanwhile, Nuke’s play has gotten the attention of the major leagues, even after a loss. Nuke stops by Annie’s after a loss and was ready to unload a winning streak worth of love (even with his dad waiting outside) when Nuke gets the call. He’s going to the majors! If we’re going with this movie being in the late ‘80s, that would mean the Atlanta Braves. Good on Nuke. Going from A-ball to the Majors is a substantial, nearly impossible leap, but that’s the magic of plot convenience.
Froemming: Unless Iron Maiden and Fishbone were around in the 1950s, I think yeah, we are going with the late 1980s.
And good for Nuke. The guy has a hell of an arm. This is a moment in his life and he wants to celebrate with the guy who helped get him there, Crash.
Except Crash, we find, is a lousy drunk. He is shooting pool at a dive bar and getting hammered when Nuke comes in to tell him the news.
Brown: Yeah, Crash enjoys himself some booze. A scene we didn’t mention earlier has Annie barging into Crash’s apartment while he’s ironing with a belt of scotch in hand.
Crash is pretty much the dad from the “Daddy Drank” skit from “Kids in the Hall.”
She’s there to complain about telling Nuke to go cold turkey and ruin her sex life. He’s just getting snookered. They’re meant for each other… somehow.
Froemming: It’s his day off, I am not going to judge him on what he does with his personal time. I imagine whiskey makes ironing shirts a little less boring? I dunno, never tried it.
So yeah, Crash is like Dave Mustaine: A mean drunk. And he yells at Nuke, Nuke accidentally insults the owner of this crap bar, and Nuke has to punch this lousy drunk in the face to calm him down.
Brown: He punches him with his non-throwing hand. Another valuable Crash lesson! Did Crash also get booted from Metallica for his drinking?
Froemming: At least we didn’t have to see him cry about it in “Some Kind Of Monster.”
Brown: As much as I am against us reviewing documentaries (it’s hard to poke holes in real-life people), we need to review “Some Kind of Monster.” Or, just get hammered on whiskey and do a review of Metallica’s “St. Anger” like what we did with Guns N’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” in college. I hope you deleted that recording.
Froemming: Don’t worry, I have it in a safe place. It still exists! Also, we did review “King of Kong,” so I am not against documentaries, they just have to be ridiculous.
Brown: Anyways, Crash is jealous because, well, Nuke accomplished in one summer what Crash failed to do in 12 years in baseball. But the two do reconcile before Nuke heads to The Show.
… And then with Nuke no longer there to mentor, Crash gets dropped on his ass and is released by the Bulls.
Again, the sad truth of minor-league baseball that this movie does incredibly well.
Froemming: Yeah, Crash gets the old “Harry and the Hendersons” treatment from the Bulls.
And he heads off to another club that might be looking for a catcher. Minor league players live life like the Beats, huh?
Brown: If you’re a lifer like Crash Davis, yeah.
Crash is about to head out to Asheville. But! Not before he shows up to Annie’s house and spends an entire weekend just rubbin’ up against each other. Also, their love-making involves a lot of spilled fluids (not those kinds). There’s milk being spilled when they decide to do it in the kitchen. The bathroom gets flooded thanks to some fun in the tub. There are some parts where it borders on graphic.
Honestly, I feel like this was the pitch meeting for “Bull Durham” after what was supposed to be just a movie about the struggles of minor-league baseball.
And like Dennis Reynolds, Crash slinks off into the morning light to join the Asheville Tourists, eventually breaking the career home run record for the minor leagues.
Froemming: I think he may have invented the D.E.N.N.I.S system. And this was the point when I realized I had no idea whose story this movie was supposed to be. Annie gets the exposition dumps via narrating some scenes. Also feels like Crash’s story of the hard life in the minors. Also feels like Nuke’s story of rising from the minors and making it.
This movie had no real central character, and that really bothered me. Not that all movies need that, but this movie just confused it with these three.
Brown: Question: How does Annie afford that nice cottage-style house? The only work she does to speak of is she mentions being a part-time college teacher. That’s enough to afford that nice a home?
America is broken.
Froemming: She is probably a drug dealer. Like Walter White.
Anywho, Annie comes home one day and this schmuck is waiting for her at her house (which she can afford pushing all that Blue Crystal at that community college she works at, part-time) for some reason. They didn’t really have that dynamic of a relationship, they certainly did not have much chemistry on screen.
Brown: Oh, in all of his movies, Costner has the charisma of a radish. Which, as someone who watched Joe Mauer’s career with the Minnesota Twins, that is the proper charisma for a baseball player.
Froemming: If they made a movie about the Twins, would they call it “Twins Minnesota?” Because that is the (REDACTED) logic of the title of this movie.
Brown: No. They’d call it “Little Big League,” because that movie already exists.
Froemming: Anyway, let’s hop on the bus and drive down to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: I thought it was a decent flick. There are some classic scenes in this movie, but I do think the parts are better than the sum of it all. If you can get over how up its own ass this movie can be, “Bull Durham” is enjoyable.
Froemming: Nope. I hated this movie so much. I do not get the appeal of it.