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 “For Love of the Game.”
The Movie: “For Love of the Game”
Starring: Kevin Costner, Kelly Preston, John C. Reilly
Director: Sam Raimi
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) After 19 years of playing the game he’s loved his whole life, Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel has to decide if he’s going to risk everything and put everything out there.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 46 percent
Brown: *taps microphone*
Leading off Sports Month for the JOE-DOWN: Number 58, Joe Brown.
Our long-standing tradition continues on the blog as we devote July to sports movies.
And when it comes to sports movies, few people have milked that cash cow more than Kevin Costner. Hell, we’ve already done one of his baseball movies with “Bull Durham.”
This time, we’ll pair him with the director of the “Evil Dead” and “Spider-Man” movies, Sam Raimi.
And together… they’ll make a romantic drama with two toxic people? And a Raimi movie without Bruce Campbell?
Not even John C. Reilly, J.K. Simmons and Brian Cox can help here.
I knew some of this going into the review. “For Love of the Game” is one of those movies that always seems to be on cable networks like TNT. So I think I’ve seen, like, 90 percent of this movie. Never sequentially, though.
Froemming, give us your first takes while I clear the mechanism.
Froemming: You sure have a knack for finding movies with the most toxic of relationships, Brown. Billy and Jane are not quite Bud and Sis, but they are not too far off either.
Honestly, I have rarely seen a movie that tries so hard for me to root for a couple that have no business being with one another. Doesn’t help that there is almost zero on-screen chemistry between the actors as well.
And in between these scenes of two people who would rather be with other people, we have baseball. And like a West Coast baseball game, this movie never seemed to end for me.
Anywho, Brown as I stumble through the snow with my mangled hand that got caught in a machine, why don’t you toss the inaugural pitch of this review.
Brown: The movie begins with something that always makes Froemming and I cringe: exposition dumps via newspapers! Hell, there was one where someone wrote a blurb about Billy Chapel as a LITTLE LEAGUE player, calling him the next big thing.
Froemming: I await your future columns in the paper on Little League All-Stars.
Brown: The day I leave journalism, I want to write a column titled “Your stupid, ugly kid isn’t Michael Jordan.”
Look… the only way a newspaper should write about a Little League team is if they make a national tournament. And you don’t talk to the kids; you talk to the coaches. You don’t write about a single player on a Little League team. That’s insanity.
Anyways, we see that Billy Chapel (Costner) goes from *sigh* Little League phenom to first-round pick to World Series hero for the Detroit Tigers.
As we get into the start of the movie, Billy Chapel is a long-toothed veteran playing in his 19th year. The Tigers’ season became irrelevant long ago and they’re in the final series of the season against the New York Yankees. This series will mean something for New York, since they’re trying to make the playoffs.
Froemming: This came out in 1999, didn’t the Yankees just win every World Series for a decade around this time? Why would this even matter to them?
Brown: Yes, the Yankees won the World Series in 1999. But you get a better matchup if you win your division. If, say, the Boston Red Sox win the division and the Yankees get in as the wild card, they’d play the top seed in the AL….
Froemming: Let me just stop you here. I have no idea what you are talking about. Let’s move on.
Billy is slated to start the next game. So the night before, Billy *checks notes* gets drunk off mini-bar bottles of scotch while his girlfriend Jane stands him up.
Froemming: I imagine he helped his catcher, Gus Sinski, with these sorts of things with drugs and alcohol.
Brown: When a hungover Billy gets up, he’s in for a shit sandwich of a day.
First, he’s late. Gus has to wake him up because apparently being the catcher for an ace pitcher means also being his keeper on the road?
Second, the owner of the team, Gary Wheeler (Brian Cox) comes to the room to inform Billy that he’s sold the team. And the group that’s bought it plans on trading Billy to the San Francisco Giants at season’s end.
Froemming: I assumed Gary should have been a better businessman than this. What with his future as a media mogul.
But I do remember he had a somewhat shady past as well.
Brown: Gary says he inherited the team from his dad. So I’m sure he’s the Fredo of the Wheeler family.
Nevermind that the trade deadline was months ago, that seems like an awful long time to have an off-season trade already negotiated. Also, Gary, while going on about some sanctimonious crap about how baseball stinks now because it’s corporate, tries to torpedo the trade by convincing Billy that he should just retire.
Those are some dirty shenanigans, Brian Cox.
Finally, Jane FINALLY shows up to the hotel to meet Billy and give him some bad news. Their relationship is over and she’s headed to London.
Froemming: Ah, a time in print journalism when someone could actually get great jobs in Europe.
Yeah, Billy is having one hell of a day. Facing retirement/trade and losing the woman he kinda liked (?), he has a lot on his mind now. And he has a game to play. Against the Yankees.
These events would have left me in bed for a day. It is ok to take a mental health day, Billy.
And so he shows up, late, really pissing off his manager, Vern Shcilige..Schilingar… (VERY MUCH NSFW)
I will always use “Oz” clips in movies we watch with JK Simmons.
Not only that, he is keeping his good-for-nothing catcher in the game, and the guy in charge has no say in the matter.
This, my friend, is called “The Inmates are Running the Asylum.”
Also, Billy’s arm is hurting too. From 19 years of wear and tear and a hand injury we will get into when his life starts flashing before his eyes and he doesn’t even have the decency to die after that, like when it happens to other people.
Brown: Look, I’m glad that Billy got John C. Reilly to have a catch with him.
John C. Reilly is a goddamn national treasure.
Anyways, the game gets started and before every inning, Billy utters the phrase “Clear the mechanism.” And all of a sudden, all the crowd noise stops and the crowd fades out. It’s just him, the batter and the catcher in focus.
Look… I get what they’re going for here, by having Billy get in the zone. But the whole sequence is laughably dumb.
I did have a chuckle when Billy wants to throw a brushback pitch at the Yankees’ No. 3 hitter. And Gus’ signal for that exact pitch is his middle finger.
Billy gets out of the first inning. And with time to kill in the dugout, he starts reminiscing about the time he met Jane for the first time and forced her to watch him pitch.
Froemming: Yes, we flashback to I believe five years prior, where Billy somehow looks five years older than he does in the present timeline. He is driving along and sees a woman with her bum car on the side of the road and decides to help.
Also, all these vehicles and NOT ONE SIGHTING OF SAM RAIMI’S 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. In fact, this is the only movie of his that does not have it.
Thanks a lot, Brown. We have the honor of reviewing this and “Spider-Man 3” of Raimi’s and nothing else (for now).
Well, Billy walks up and this woman (Jane) is understandably wanting him to go away, as he is a stranger in New York. And he lies, saying he knows about cars and fiddles with some doohicky (technical term) and suddenly her vehicle works again, because magic exists in films I guess.
Brown: When the tow truck shows up, the driver is enamored with meeting Billy Chapel. So he does Billy’s bidding when he drives away with Jane’s car so she’ll have to watch Billy play baseball.
This is not a healthy start to a relationship.
Froemming: Not at all. It feels like his version of Dennis Reynolds’ Implication.
Brown: Anyways, Jane is put in the players’ wives section, where one woman describes her within earshot as “this week’s blonde.”
A weird trait of Jane’s is she introduces herself by full name, like she expects everyone to read her magazine pieces? Actually, all the people in this movie introduce themselves by full name. It’s… off-putting.
Billy gets to ask Jane three questions, which is not enough for a date. His final question: “How do you like to be kissed?”
… Never mind that Costner delivers that line as the living, breathing Nyquil bottle that he is, Jane answers the question with “Yes.”
… That’s not an answer to that question. But whatever, they bone.
And then Billy slinks off into the night, hoping to meet again the next time the Tigers are in town to play the Yankees.
Just for reference, wanna know how many times a year Detroit would go to New York to play the Yankees? They’re not in the same division, so one series A YEAR. See you next year then, Jane?
Froemming: He says he will meet her in four weeks I believe, so in this universe, these teams play once a month I guess.
And when he returns, she stands him up. Which should be a sign of how things will play out, Billy. You and her are not good for one another. We see this over and over in these flashbacks.
Anyway, she shows up to tell him how she did not want to show up, because she doesn’t want the complications of dating a famous athlete and being seen as a groupie. Concerns that are legitimate and understandable.
But he talks his way into a weird-ass long-distance relationship where they can do whatever they want when not together.
Brown: There was a line where Jane mentioned that little kids collect baseball cards with Billy’s face on them. His reaction is an indignant “they buy the cards for the gum.” No one has ever bought baseball cards for gum. It’s sharp, it has hints of baseball card ink on it, and the flavor lasts for three seconds. Seriously; the flavor in Zebra Stripe Gum lasts longer.
During the in-game action, Billy keeps sitting down Yankees. And frankly, none of this matters until the eighth inning when there’s a little bit of drama.
Back to *sigh* more of this relationship. We see one season where the Tigers are in Florida for spring training and Billy tries talking Jane into coming down. They get into a fight on the phone when this line is uttered:
Jane: “When will you call me (again)?”
Billy: “When I don’t feel like killing you.”
… Jane …
And if that isn’t a big enough red flag for you to end this relationship, Jane, you should do it when you catch Billy having sex with a massage therapist like he’s (REDACTED) Deshaun Watson.
Froemming: Which, he defends mind you, with both their stupid agreement AND he says he likes her.
This is not a healthy relationship, Jane. RUN! RUN AWAY!
And yet, these two toxic forces somehow find their way back together. The next time is when Jane’s daughter runs away to her dad’s place.
A father who Heather says is “stoned all the time.” And only keeps a jar of mustard in the fridge. This feels like a paint-by-numbers screenplay.
Brown: Heather also sees another red flag, at least in my eyes. On the plane, Billy orders a V8, which seems like something a serial killer would order during travel.
Froemming: Billy says he enjoys the taste. Nobody enjoys the taste of V8. That is why most people drown it in vodka for Bloody Marys. Poor tasting Bloody Marys.
Brown: Costner says that V8 is a refreshing blend of vegetable juices like he’s a hostage doing an ad read.
Kevin Costner has the personality of a turnip.
Froemming: Maybe he is in the same situation Lenny was in?
Anyway, Jane never mentioned the daughter, though I suspect because this was just a part-time scenario or something. Hard to call it a relationship when they see one another once every month or so.
He brings Heather back and Jane invites him in for dinner. Jane, he basically cheated on you and said a veiled death threat to you. Please, please just get away from this weirdo.
Brown: Nope. Instead of seeing the red flags, Jane lets Billy become a part of her family’s life. Seriously, they’re playing the happiest game of Monopoly I’ve ever seen. No one has ever been happy during a game on Monopoly. That board game ends families!
Froemming: This is a more realistic representation of a family game of Monopoly.
Brown: They spend the offseason living together *checks notes* in the snowy mountains? Did Billy think Aspen was in California like Lloyd Christmas?
Anyways, tragedy strikes when Billy is cutting wood on a table saw. He seems like he’s being awfully safe about it, using a guide and a push stick. Then the next scene has Billy bleeding out after cutting his pitching hand?
Like, what? This is a confusing way to add drama with a career-altering injury. Billy’s a pitcher; have him get a shoulder injury or Tommy John surgery. That would at least fall in line with the character instead of having an accident that my stoner classmates would have in middle-school shop class.
Froemming: He then says, as the helicopter is taking him away to a better hospital, for Jane to call someone on the team, as they are the most important person to him right now.
She. Just. Saved. Your. Life.
Jumping out of Red Flag: The Relationship, we notice that Billy is pitching a perfect game with his bad hand acting up. He is putting his all into this game, something he should have put into his relationship, but as we have figured out by now, he is a monster.
Back into the past, we see Billy berating his trainer because he is struggling. He then berates Jane in their hotel room, telling her to leave as she is a distraction.
Jane says she is trying to be there for him, but he is having none of it and she heads back to New York in tears as he is living his stupid, selfish life.
Brown: By the time we get to the eighth inning, Billy’s old arm is starting to hurt. The hand injury we just spent the last 10ish minutes on… nothing. Again, use a shoulder injury instead of a table saw accident to have this have more impact.
The first batter of the inning gets to a 3-0 count. One more pitch out of the zone and the perfect game is over.
So Billy does what he did with his dad: He has a catch.
With the help of a defense that’s making miraculous play after miraculous play, Billy gets out of the eighth with the perfect game intact.
In another flashback, we see that Heather is going to college at USC and randomly sees Billy eating at some cafe. They catch up briefly and Billy gives her a kiss on the forehead as Heather walks away.
That… has to be a very weird conversation with your friends later. They just saw a 44-year-old man (Costner’s age in this movie) kiss you with no context to what the (REDACTED) is going on.
Froemming: I would have called campus police.
Anywho, Billy decides to waltz back into Jane’s life by crashing an art party, and we know how I feel about art.
He uses Jane to get past Ted Raimi, who is working the door. He then tells Jane’s boss, Ian, that he thinks the art is lousy. He then acts to Jane like everything is normal, but she has moved on and is dating Ian, her boss, which raises a lot of ethical issues at this magazine.
But we know what happens to Ian later in life, after he scolds the wife of New Mexico’s meth kingpin.
Brown: This leads us to the current day, where Billy wants to meet up with Jane while he’s in town. While she gets the phone call, she’s packing for London.
Like, relationship over, right?
Nope. It’s the final call for passengers going to London. But Jane stays at the airport to see if Billy can complete perfection.
After reflecting on his relationship, Billy makes a call. He writes on a baseball that gets to the owner saying he’s hanging it up after this season.
So now, Billy has the chance to end his career on a literal perfect note.
The final out is against the kid of a former teammate of Billy’s. The kid hits it off of Billy’s glove and in the middle of the infield. And the shortstop makes a diving stop, has time for the throw and gets the final out. Billy gets the perfect game.
… No shortstop alive is quick enough to have reached that ball and gotten that throw off. But what the (REDACTED) ever. This movie is trying to make me believe that this relationship with Billy and Jane will last. What’s a bullshit defensive play next to that?
Froemming: Billy wanders into the airport, and he is going to England to stalk his former love, except she is also still in the airport.
And they get back together.
Brown: And make out REAL aggressively in the airport. It’s really uncomfortable.
Froemming: These two should not be around one another ever again. Billy cheated on her, threw her to the curb and she still goes back to him. That is not a happy ending. That is a horrific ending!
Brown, let’s head on down to recommendations for this piece of shit movie.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: No. It’s a slog with two unlikable people falling in love. Like I said in the intro, John C. Reilly and JK Simmons can’t save this.
Froemming: No. No, this is a bad movie.
Here is what’s coming up for the next JOE-DOWN: