American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
You know those quizzes they run in women's magazines, about testing your relationship? "For Love of the Game" is about the kinds of people who give the wrong answers. It's the most lugubrious and soppy love story in many a moon, a step backward for director Sam Raimi after "A Simple Plan," and yet another movie in which Kevin Costner plays a character who has all the right window dressing but is neither juicy nor interesting.
Costner plays Billy Chapel, a 40-year-old pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, facing retirement at the end of a mediocre season. As the film opens, he's set the stage for a candlelit dinner in his New York hotel, but his date never arrives, he drinks the champagne and all the booze in the minibar, and next day he wakes up with a hangover and learns (a) crusty old Mr. Wheeler is selling the team because his sons don't want it, (b) he's being traded, and (c) Jane, the girl he was waiting for, is leaving him and taking a job in London because "you don't need me--you're perfect with you and the ball and the diamond." Not what you want to hear when you're facing retirement.
The movie has a screenplay that lumbers between past and present like regret on a death march. Billy suits up for his final game of the season, and as he starts pitching we get the "Five Years Earlier" card, and the movie cuts back and forth between his quest to pitch a perfect game and his memories of their love affair. Will he pitch the perfect game and save the relationship? Or will he throw a home-run pitch in the bottom of the ninth, while the girl disappears? What's your best guess? Five years earlier, he first encountered Jane (Kelly Preston) in a Meet Cute, when he saw her kicking her rented VW by the side of the expressway. He's able to get the car running again and likes her at first sight--even though she doesn't know who he is until the tow truck guy says, "Hey--you're Billy Chapel!" He is indeed a baseball great, and soon she's complaining, "I need a regular guy. Not the guy in the Old Spice commercials." "It was Right Guard," he says. "I was being metaphorical," she says.
She's also not thrilled by kids who collect his picture on bubble gum cards. "They buy them for the gum," he says, revealing he's seriously out of touch. Today's wise child preserves the original wrappers, and finances his college education by selling them on eBay.
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