Friday Flicks: Bull Durham

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The offseason can be tough on baseball fans. Why not get your baseball fix through the Silver Screen? All offseason long, check out “Friday Flicks” at lunchtime for a baseball movie review. Want to suggest a movie for review?  Comment below with the title.

Last week, I wrote about a movie with a nostalgic view of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Today, I review a movie for those who love the game of baseball.

I knew I was going to love Bull Durham (1988) from the opening scene. Any flick that included a woman who knew and loved baseball as much as Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) has me right away. Sometimes we female baseball fans have to stick together!

The Durham Bulls are a minor league team with a mix of young players who have the potential to make it to “The Show” and aging players who are desperate for one last chanced to be a star. Minor league veteran Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is a catcher brought into the club to reign in Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), a fire-throwing pitcher who is ineffectively wild. (Translation for Minnesota Twins fans: even scarier on the mound than Francisco Liriano…and not in a good way.)

Annie may not be a player, but she has a lot of impact on the Bull’s success. Each year, she picks one player to sleep with. Every player she sleeps sees their game improve. She also has a keen eye for what is throwing a player’s game off, and her coaching tips help them adjust a pitching technique or a batting stance…and always have a sexual undercurrent.

Nuke is a complete meathead, and Crash has his work more than cut out for him. Like many young players whose goal is to make it to The Show, Nuke is looking for the fastest way to get there and tries to rely on his uncontrollable fastball. Davis works to reign him in, trying to teach him that control has to come before speed. He puts the familiar-to-Minnesota “pitch to contact” philosophy in perfectly snarky political terms:

Don’t throw so many strikeouts, they’re fascist.  Throw more groundballs, they’re more Democratic.

Oh, and who Annie is…and isn’t…sleeping with is making or breaking the team’s success.

The plot of the story sounds cliché on paper, but the wit and high caliber lead actors rise well above cliché to really good flick. For a baseball fan, it’s a treat to watch a movie whose story is integrated with the nuances of the game, not just a movie using a ball field as a backdrop.

This is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.

Is it a hit? I give it a home run, if only for Crash’s “I believe in” speech early in the movie. And because it’s a movie that will be enjoyed by anyone who likes good movies or is a casual baseball fan, but it will be appreciated even more by people who love the game.

Come back at lunchtime next Friday for a review of a movie about the 1919 “Black Sox”.

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