"I take orders from the Octoboss."

For Love of the Game

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I said to you that day in the condo.”

Okay, we have now come to the one “Wait— what?” of the Raimi filmography. His MUSIC OF THE HEART. We saw him completely switch up his style for his last movie, A SIMPLE PLAN, and it was obviously very different and more “normal” than anything he’d done previously. But it wasn’t totally out of the blue for him to make the leap from horror to dark suspense thriller. It had some overlap with the crime films by his friends the Coen Brothers, and it had a great role for Bridget Fonda, who had previously done a cameo in ARMY OF DARKNESS.

But for the love of God, where did FOR LOVE OF THE GAME come from? The answer he always gives is about the only answer possible: he likes baseball, he liked the script, he wanted to try something different. I knew that was what it was but I always figured it would be worth watching some day. “Some day” came 22 years after it was released (now), and I’m actually surprised that the only Raimi I noticed in it at all was Ted Raimi in a cameo as the doorman at a party. I figured there would at least be some cool shots of baseballs flying. The premise is that maybe-about-to-retire Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner, SIZZLE BEACH, U.S.A.) reflects on his failed relationship while trying to pitch a perfect game. You’d think there would be some attempt to experiment with different ways to show a pitch on film, as THE QUICK AND THE DEAD did with gun duels. But it’s not that kind of party.

Maybe it’s actually a problem that Raimi likes baseball so much. He doesn’t get bored looking at it. I guess the use of whip pans from the mound to the plate are effective. Otherwise about the only clever visuals I noticed were some shots like this, where the audience being out of focus I think represents him tuning them out to focus on the batter. I like that conceptually, but doesn’t it look like a cheap green screen shot?

It’s the end of a shitty season for the Tigers, with one last series against the Yankees. Billy’s arm has been hurting, and his pal/sidekick/catcher Gus (John C. Reilly, “Thug in Bar,” ABOVE THE LAW) doesn’t think he should risk injury for “a throwaway,” but Billy really wants to try to win it.

It’s an emotionally fraught time for Billy. His sometime-girlfriend Jane (Kelly Preston, SPACECAMP) didn’t show up for date night at the hotel, so he sat alone drinking sad champagne and mini Glenlivet bottles, watching tractor-pulling on TV. Then he was woken up in time to hear from the horse’s mouth that team owner Gary (Brian Cox, THE GLIMMER MAN) is selling the team and the new owner wants to trade him to the Giants. And then he finally saw Jane and she told him she’s moving to London to take a job editing a magazine.

There’s a pretty obvious solution here, that it will take the whole game/movie for him to figure out. Jane can’t stay with him because it’s no fun to be the girlfriend of a professional baseball player. “You, and the ball, and the diamond, you’re perfect. A perfectly beautiful thing,” she says. “You can win or lose the game all by yourself.” Seems like if he has a reason to ditch the ball and the diamond he could try to be more of a perfectly beautiful thing with her. If she lets him move to London with her.

The game itself is well shot, I suppose, just not Raimi-flashy. I got a little hyped when the camera went in close to document the various bat swings and stretches in the pre-batting ritual of a Yankee player (Texas Ranger turned actor Michael Papajohn), but that’s about as far as he goes. By the way, director of photography John Bailey (AMERICAN GIGOLO, CAT PEOPLE, MISHIMA) didn’t do any other Raimi movies. Costner may have brought him in, having worked with him on THE BIG CHILL and SILVERADO.

Mostly the movie is made of flashbacks interspersed throughout the game. Billy remembers meeting Jane when she had car trouble on the side of the road. He jiggles the engine and fixes it by accident, admitting he doesn’t even know what he did, and ends up inviting her to his game.

She’s a magazine writer, working an a piece about lip gloss for Elle. Could be the big one. They have a great time and fuck on the first date but then he has to leave town so she starts feeling like a groupie, and the next time they’re supposed to meet she makes him wait for hours then accosts him on the street with all her insecurities about it while dudes hound him for autographs. He eventually calms her down and at the end of the night she smiles and tells him “So, when you’re away, I’ll live my life, and you’ll live yours. And none of this stupid bullshit why-didn’t-you-call-me crap. And what you do when you’re not with me has nothing to do with me, and vice-versa. No questions asked. No worrying. No obsessing.” So of course she surprises him at his place when he’s with another woman and everybody gets hurt.

The relationship strengthens when Jane reveals she has a teenage daughter named Heather (Jena Malone, SUCKER PUNCH) who has run away and she needs his help. He finds Heather and gets her to come home with him on the team jet. There’s some odd dialogue where he drinks V8 and she says, “What is it with single men and V8 juice?” The “single men” apparently just refers to her dad, but I don’t know why she keeps calling it “V8 juice.”

Anyway the three play Monopoly and have Christmas together and bond, but after Billy injures his hand in a power tool accident (in which Raimi sadly doesn’t go crazy with the gore) they drift apart because she’s sensitive even about stuff like him calling his trainer “the most important person to me right now” and yet he starts saying actually hurtful stuff like “Don’t you get it? You make me feel distracted. You make me feel weak.”

As he’s remembering all this in the dugout and on the mound he’s realizing what a dumbass he was. And then realizing oh shit, nobody has gotten on base yet, this is shaping up to be a perfect game. And throughout all that we’ve also been cutting back to Jane, failing to leave town or avoid the game. Her cab driver listens to it on the radio, she asks him to turn it off (are you kidding me, lady?) and he correctly tells her no. Then her flight gets delayed and it’s playing on a TV at the airport bar. She starts to get defensive of Billy and invested in the game because of an asshat Yankees fan (Larry Joshua, THE BURNING) who is under the impression that strangers need to hear his baseball opinions spoken out loud. And then you know the true love is coming back when it’s time to board her flight and she decides to miss it to keep watching.

The corniest shit in the movie is watching the people watching the game. Not just Jane – we start seeing Heather (now attending USC) seeing the game on TV, getting teary-eyed.

The funniest one is this Yankees fan who is a reoccurring character throughout the game, yelling insults at Billy, but at the end he’s moved by all the triumph and baseball heroism and what not. (The guy at the airport bar doesn’t do the same face turn – he just gets mad.)

Honestly I think the movie could use more of that kinda stuff. I got a little chuckle from the team’s introduction, approaching their private jet wearing nice suits, walking toward the camera in slow motion, like astronauts.

Raimi could’ve gone further with that type of cornball Americana worshipfulness. Maybe that would be more fun, and a better use for the saccharine, at times even cheesy score by the normally great Basil Poledouris (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, IRON EAGLE, ROBOCOP).

A funny thing that never came up in Raimi’s movies before is having popular music on the soundtrack, mostly of the old people variety. You got Roy Orbison, Lyle Lovett, Trisha Yearwood, Jonny Lang covering “Paint It Black.” But also Semisonic, Morcheeba, Shaggy, “Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines,” and Santana featuring Eagle-Eye Cherry. Plus Chante Moore featuring JoJo Hailey singing a Diane Warren tune called “I See You In A Different Light” for the end credits. We didn’t get that in the EVIL DEADs.

FOR LOVE OF THE GAME is based on a short novel by Michael Shaara, whose 1974 book The Killer Angels had been the basis of GETTYSBURG. He died of a heart attack in 1988, but his son found the manuscript and had it published in 1991. The adaptation is by Dana Stevens, not the Slate critic but the writer of BLINK and CITY OF ANGELS. At the time she was married to Michael Apted, who had her do an uncredited rewrite on THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, making her the second woman writer on a James Bond movie (after Johanna Harwood, before Phoebe Waller-Bridge). She later did LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT, an Angelina Jolie movie I only really know about because it was filmed in Seattle.

Stevens makes Jane neurotic and self-deprecating, which is annoying at times, but probly better than the idealized dream girl she could’ve been in a romance sports movie if a dude wrote it. I don’t find their attempts to stop second-guessing and just be in love all that compelling, but I will say there is one thing about Billy I find relatable. When faced with the big news that Jane is leaving the country, he says, “What can I say? I mean, tell me what to say.” And she says, “I can’t tell you, Billy.” That’s how bad I am in emotional talks. So I get that. But other than recognizing that part of him I don’t find much appeal in this Billy Chapel. Come to think of it he seems like a guy who would tell Madonna her show was “neat.” Maybe Madonna was right after all.

Before Raimi and Costner, the movie was almost made by Sydney Pollack and Tom Cruise. To get it made, Costner took a pay cut in exchange for director approval and final cut. But that deal was contingent on it being rated PG-13, which took cutting about 10 seconds of “humorous, obscenity-laced dialogue” (according to the L.A. Times) against Costner’s wishes. It apparently included the airport bartender calling the Yankees fan a motherfucker or something, and Jane saying something harsher than “I just don’t screw like that.” (I hope it was “I just don’t hump like that.”)

I wonder why Anchor Bay never came out with SAM RAIMI’S FOR LOVE OF THE GAME: THE MOTHERFUCKER EDITION?

Costner felt betrayed that Universal didn’t fight for those lines or allow an R-rating, so he cancelled most of his promotional appearances and complained about it in a Newsweek interview, angering the studio. Raimi defended Costner’s protectiveness, pointing out that it was a very personal movie to him, so much that he allowed them to use real home movies of him playing ball with his dad in the opening credits. (And after he sniffs his mitt, bringing back powerful memories.)

Years later on the Bill Simmons Podcast Costner said that the Yankees trainer he worked with got him to “take a little bit of stuff” and get “kind of juiced up” to deal with the pain of all the pitching he had to do. So maybe it was all roid rage.

I doubt the negative publicity was a factor, but the movie failed to make back its $50 million budget – by far the largest Raimi had ever had – at the box office. But it didn’t seem to hurt Raimi’s career. The main thing he seemed to get out of it was a relationship with J.K. Simmons (KUNG FU PANDA 3), who plays a grouchy pitching coach here and will appear in other Raimi movies we’ll be looking at soon.

I’m sorry to report that FOR LOVE OF THE GAME is the only Sam Raimi movie I didn’t enjoy much at all. It’s certainly competent, but shows little to no Raimi personality or style, and didn’t even seem to do it for the people who prefer normal movies like this to spookablasts.

Now that I’ve finally seen it, I do think the movie itself answers the question of “Why the fuck would Sam Raimi make this?” A big deal is made of Billy being 40 years old, which happens to be how old Raimi was (Costner was a little older). At the end Billy tells Jane his philosophy that “If you give something your all, everything you have, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you risked everything, put everything out there.” Which seems to be what Raimi was doing here. Billy comes to the conclusion that it’s time to leave behind his playboy selfishness and become A Grown Up, and I think Raimi too tried being A Grown Up by making this milquetoast romantic sports drama where the camera doesn’t even fly around. But I am happy to report from the future that he has never made a movie this square since. He put everything out there and then, thank God, he thought better of it.

Trivia: Jane’s flight is on “Oceanic Airways,” presumably related to the Oceanic Airlines from EXECUTIVE DECISION, later made famous in Lost. Also, Daniel Dae Kim plays the ER doctor. I guess that’s more of a credit than a piece of trivia.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 24th, 2022 at 6:55 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews, Romance, Sport. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “For Love of the Game”

  1. I saw this movie once 20 years ago, but I could have sworn I remembered some Raimi-esque POV pitching shots. Is my brain inventing false memories to protect itself from the trauma of having witnessed a totally normal Sam Raimi movie?

  2. Flying Guillotine

    January 24th, 2022 at 7:29 am

    FOR LOVE OF THE GAME is a film by my favorite director, including my favorite composer… and I have never seen it, for exactly the reasons discussed here.

    I began my career by working as a creative executive for one of the companies that produced LIFE OR SOMETHING LIKE IT. For seven years I worked in an office with that one-sheet on the wall.

  3. Yeah, that movie…exists.

    I saw it twice and the only thing I remember is when Kelly Preston tries to get the ER doctors to take care of Costner’s hand by holding a speech about how much people love baseball.

    Other director’s have landed in director’s jail for less, so I guess Raimi came out unhurt, because everybody saw it as a Kevin Costner movie and blamed him for everything instead.

  4. As will be the case with many people commenting here, I never did catch up with this one. I’ve gone in and out of cycles of baseball fandom, and was near the bottom when this came out; I’m much more into it now so my perpetual mild curiosity is probably at its peak as well.

    “Figure out how to make a baseball game dramatically compelling” sure is a strange assignment for Raimi, of all people. It seems like he’d be a much more intuitive choice for a faster game like football or basketball, where I could see some of the more DARKMAN-style shenanigans fitting in more organically. The whole point of baseball is that it’s boring and and stupid and nothing ever happens (I regard these a virtues of course). I always wished that some 90s studio exec had tried to bring in one of the guys from overseas who was doing what would later be dubbed “slow cinema” to direct this one – sure a Sam Raimi baseball movie sounds perversely interesting, but who wouldn’t trade it for the mirror-universe baseball movie from Bela Tarr, or Abbas Kiarostami, or Hou Hsiao-hsien?

    Anyway, good on Raimi for trying to gas up his home team, who in real life finished third in their division with a .261/.326/.443 team slash line; Yankees won the World Series that year, so the fat-guy heckler in the stands had good reason to be charitable.

  5. Screenwriters must be psychopaths, because characters in movies almost always require a personal motivation to do anything the slightest bit altruistic, even when it’s their fucking job. Like, that’s a great speech about baseball, Kelly Preston, but the Hippocratic Oath should really cover it here.

  6. Like, it happens so often that it’s almost a meta moment when it goes the other way. The other day I finally got around to SHE NEVER DIED (not as good as the first one but still really solid) and the human trafficker villain has the cop sidekick tied up, and she’s like “Obviously you have a vendetta against us because you think we kidnapped your missing daughter” and he’s like “Actually, I found her years ago, and she’s perfectly happy and not kidnapped. But do you really think I need a personal reason to want to see people like you dead?” Like, the fact that the cop is simply fighting evil because it’s the right thing to do (not to mention his job) is supposed to be a twist. I realize they all do this because it was in the one screenwriting book they all read (Chapter 1: Hero Must Have Personal Connection To Villain), but it’s not always necessary. It’s called natural human empathy, screenwriters, and it’s the one and only reason cinema isn’t just a bunch of flashing lights. If we can give a fuck about these fake people despite having never met them, why can’t they?

  7. A minor note – before Stevens and Waller-Bridge worked on Bond films, Johanna Harwood cowrote DR NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and did some uncredited work on GOLDFINGER. She got weirdly forgotten because it was better publicity to say Waller-Bridge was THE FIRST and nobody bothered fact-checking. (And hiring Waller-Bridge was a great decision, obviously, just nobody noted that a woman worked on writing the first three films.)

  8. Majestyk – you’re not alone, since I could have sworn there were Raimi-esque shots of baseballs flying in this too. (I figured maybe they were in the trailer but got cut out of the actual movie, but Youtube proves that’s not the case either!)

    Other than that, yeah, I remember this as not being very good or memorable and now I think about it I might just not like Costner. I mean, I won’t NOT watch a movie because of him, and I’ve got a lot of holes in his filmography that I need to fill, but scanning through his IMDB I’m wondering if there’s another lead actor with as low a batting average (sorry) as him. He’s never particularly “bad” but even at his best he seems either outclassed by the movie around him like in The Untouchables, or he’s giving off some late-period Bruce Willis/Harrison Ford low-energy vibes. It’s so weird that he’s so locked into his onscreen “persona”, that when he steps outside of it like in Waterworld or 3000 Miles to Graceland, he ends up looking silly and out-of-place. But I can’t really tell you what exactly his “persona” is, other than “he’s All-American and he likes sports and your mom thinks he’s hot”.

    He doesn’t have the screen presence, or the command of the screen of say, Kurt Russell. He doesn’t have that mischievous twinkle of a Jeff Bridges or Sam Elliot. Or the physicality and zen-ness of Swayze. The goofy humor or dark edge of Mel Gibson. The go-for-broke mega-ness of Cage. He’s just kinda there in a low-key way which is maybe what some people like about him, but I guess I demand more from my movie stars. I do think lightning strikes once in a while – I think Tin Cup is great (mostly because of the script), and Open Range is a minor classic (mostly due to Robert Duvall and Costner’s excellent direction). But yeah, as an actor, he’s rarely (or ever) the best or most interesting part of a movie.

  9. I like Costner for the most part, but he’s at his best when his characters share some aspect of his essential squareness, such as Elliott Ness or Mr. Brooks.

  10. This movie was fine. A top-tier lifetime flick. I also am a baseball fan, so that probably helped.

    If you remember, Raimi was referring to himself as a “hack-of-all-trades” during press, and REALLY stressing that he considered himself to be a competent, neutral director of all genres. So I wasn’t surprised by the lack of baseball POV shots and whatnot. I mean, his time of being a no-budget wunderkind was over, and it had produced exactly zero movies that made money. So I could see why he’d be interested moving into something else (and in a hurry)

  11. Yeah, I never saw this one either. It’s the only Raimi that I haven’t watched, although now I’ll at least look out for it to appear on a streaming service just to be a completest.

    What Majestyk says about the fact that every character these days needs some sort of personal motivation reminds me of what I love about 101 Dalmatians. The moment the dogs of London realize that there are a bunch of puppies missing, they go into action. They get the word out and then do whatever they can to get them back to London. I, mean, of course they do. That evil woman’s going to turn a bunch of harmless dogs into a fucking coat. I never questioned that when watching the movie as a kid, but as an adult it seems altruistic in ways you don’t really see in movies these days.

  12. In all fairness about that hospital scene: It’s not like they sent a dying Kevin Costner away, but they wouldn’t let him cut in line in a full ER. So in a way, it made her look like an asshole. I wonder how many other people were sitting there with injuries, that endangered their job future, but had to wait now even longer, because Mr throws-balls-for-money needed special treatement, according to his girlfriend.

  13. The interesting thing about Raimi is, he almost doesn’t see himself as an artist but someone selling a product. Essentially, he’d make a great studio suit. Look how he disowns his failures really easily, even when they work as a film, I’m not talking Crimewave where it was too compromised. When describing his horror movies he almost speaks like a marketer…like needing to provide constant whammies for entertainment for the paying customer who wants shit flickering on screen constantly. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, it’s made for some of the most energetic films ever made, and it’s not like he’s going to just show up and half-ass the work, he really cares…but it’s the mentality that would lead him to make a movie like this. Like, for instance, the Darkman stuff where the studio cut so much out of the movie and then locked it. Raimi of course was unhappy but he’s a good Midwestern boy so he kind of goes along. But Rob Tapert went in the day before some big screening and just put everything back…and he said outright Raimi is not the kind of guy who would do something like that, but he is. Sam Raimi is essentially a good boy who started out in a disreputable genre…which he only made to start a career, and only made it as gory as he did to start that career.

  14. Ha ha CJ true…”I know you were working in the mine and broke your arm, but this well paid millionaire needs to throw more BALLS!

    Of course it’s been a long time before I saw this sludge, but didn’t they really stack the deck too and he was bleeding all over and no one cared? Real Hollywood horseshit. But now if she threw a scene like that in a hospital that footage would end up on the internet and a bunch of 20 year old Communists on Twitter would be calling her a Karen who only cares about the wealthy and she probably hates black people too.

  15. You’re tellin’ me there’s a Raimi baseball picture and it doesn’t have a scene where the camera follows the ball into the catcher’s mitt? And then it blows a baseball-shaped hole through his glove and we see a beam of sunlight shine through it as he screams? Then what’s the point?

    Also: Costner has multiple baseball dramas and post-apocalyptic epics to his name, and yet no movie where Kevin Costner resurrects the sport of baseball to heal a post-apocalyptic America. (Let’s call it PASTIME.)

  16. Bill brings up a good point. Some directors make films. Some directors make movies. And some directors make pictures.

    Sam Raimi makes pictures.

  17. I just can’t. I’ve always meant to, but this review confirms exactly what I was worried about. Ironically, if he had poured all that Quick and the Dead style into this, he could have been the guy to make me enjoy a baseball movie.

  18. J.J. – Thanks, I will correct that. Turns out I misread Wikipedia saying that Stevens was the *last* woman to write James Bond until Waller-Bridge.

  19. The teaser does have indeed a quick zoom into a baseball glove, which could be counted as “Raimi-esque” near the end, but it’s nothing to write home about and could also be random stock footage. Also intersting that they chose a Britpop song to promote this extreme American movie.

    For Love of the Game Official Trailer #1 - Brian Cox Movie (1999) HD

    Subscribe to TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/sxaw6hSubscribe to COMING SOON: http://bit.ly/H2vZUnSubscribe to CLASSIC TRAILERS: http://bit.ly/1u43jDeLike us on FACEB...

  20. When I first interviewed Raimi for The Gift (most star struck I’ve ever been) I asked him what lesson he learned from For Love of the Game. I remember he said he learned he needs to be involved in casting of a film, alluding I believe to coming on with Costner already attached.

    Can’t wait for tomorrow’s review!

  21. CJ, the front end of that trailer sounds suspiciously like Randy Newman’s theme from THE NATURAL, which would be a very on the nose music choice (he said, having never seen this particular Raimi movie). So while Britpop and baseball may seem like odd bedfellows, it’s easy to imagine people working to a deadline to produce a trailer hearing The Verve’s Lucky Man and thinking “I’m a lucky man, with fire in my hands” and “how many corners do I have to turn?” and thinking Aha, baseball!

    But like I said, I’ve not seen this, nor had more than the vaguest notion that it exists, and I like Raimi AND Costner.

  22. Since Vern just watched the movie, I am willing to believe that it doesn’t contain any cool shots of baseballs traveling thru the air. But I also feel like I read a review in 1999 that mentioned such shots being the only unique thing about it. Did someone say Mandela Effect??? Any sheeple reading these words are hereby invited to do the math.

    I jest. Time for my V8.

  23. There’s a lot of comments stating they never saw this movie but assumed it would be …

    I reviewed this movie in the old newspaper days. I had to go back and look and I gave it a B. I just rewatched after reading your review and I don’t think I’d change my grade. It’s full of flaws and unabashedly sentimental. But it is also true to some people and their mindsets, even if some of the followups are heavy handed.

    I appreciate the review from a Raimi in depth perspective but I think it misses the point of the movie and the reason Raimi made it even though you reference his quote. Most of us ain’t getting any younger, and lessons are learned by doing. Do I want to sit in a three piece suit and use eight different utensils to eat a meal for every single meal – no. But I’m glad I have been in situations where that was required. I like that Raimi wears a tie still.

  24. I’ve been watching the Ken Burns documentary series on the game and it is way more fascinating then I maybe would have given it credit before. Especially the episodes covering the Black Sox scandal, all the way to when the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to LA. It’s fascinating as to how a few times the sport lead the country to new barriers being broken, and how the evolution of the country through the Great Depression and two world wars affected the game.

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