Bull Durham (1988)
Bull Durham (1988)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: June 15th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ron Shelton Actors: Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Trey Wilson, Robert Wuhl, William O’Leary, David Neidorf, Jenny Robertson

 


 

“I

believe in the church of baseball.” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) prides herself on helping star ball players have the best seasons of their careers – by sleeping with them (the film is actually quite progressive in this regard; she’s never shamed for her unconventional lifestyle). And her special set of skills never fails (“My own spring training”). It’s a tough trade, she muses, since she gives them an experience that will last their whole lives, and in return she only sees them for a 142-day period. With a new season about to start, Annie takes up shop in the stands like a scout, taking down statistics, mulling over pitching speeds, and noting players’ forms. She also has her friend Millie (Jenny Robertson), who similarly gravitates toward sexual liaisons with baseballers, report on bedroom performances, which could shed some light on prospects.

Newcomer Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) is just such a possibility, a rookie for the Durham Bulls with an incredible arm and limitless potential, but no control – and no brainpower. In this single-A league, he’s certain to be a star (on his way to the Majors), if only he can get a veteran to teach him the ropes. So in walks Triple-A catcher Frank “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner), who reluctantly agrees to coach the hotheaded youngster. Of course, when he sees Annie, a love triangle appears inevitable.

“After twelve years in the minor leagues, I don’t try out.” Although it’s obvious from the start that Crash is a more suitable match for Annie (her idea of foreplay involves Walt Whitman), he’s confident enough to play hard-to-get. And he’s far from desperate. Additionally, the rivalry is almost playful; every character in the film is likable and sympathetic, despite occasional missteps in conduct. Even heated tempers are generally the result of dimwittedness rather than malice. Conflict doesn’t present itself in the form of a typical antagonist; instead, dilemmas are the result of love and emotions emerging at inconvenient times.

Also amusing is the fact that “Bull Durham” isn’t as much about baseball as it is about relationships. There’s plenty of lingo, game-playing montages, stadium announcers serving as narrators, and strategizing, but most of it is secondary to the personas and their off-field engagements. Plus, the wholesome camaraderie, spirited shenanigans, and comic interludes beef up the non-baseball-related content. Thanks to regular, effective humor at every turn – provided by virtually every role, and particularly by the manager (Trey Wilson) and a coach (Robert Wuhl) – along with an upbeat, jovial soundtrack, the film retains a lighthearted feel throughout.

There’s also a certain realism to the film, even as it focuses on frivolities more than edge-of-your-seat excitement. Yet in its intermittent uneventfulness, the genuineness of these characters continues to surface; their down-to-earth personalities and the honest, simple, funny dialogue are spot-on. It’s consistently entertaining, unconcerned with showy, big moments; it’s the smaller, intimate sequences of friendship or romance or heartbreak or slumps that really win out. Plus, the bittersweet lead-up to the close is sensational, transforming the film into something far more memorable than just a great romantic comedy.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10