Boomer Bust

Nothing if not a structural film, For Love of the Game unfolds as sore-armed Billy is pitching a perfect game against the Yankees in New York while pondering the unhappy trajectory of his five-year-long affair with headstrong Jane. Flashbacks alternate with strikeouts. (Although the movie is a daunting two hours and 24 minutes long, the key scene is less than 30 seconds. Preston, smoothing Costner's hair as she cradles his head in her lap: "Do you believe in God?" Costner, after a slight pause: "Yes." And cut! God has got to be relieved.)

Costner must feel like he invented baseball in Bull Durham and brought down its commandments in Field of Dreams. I don't mind For Love of the Game's ragging on obnoxious Yankee fans but it is pretty churlish that, in all the hubbub over Billy's fictional accomplishment— scarcely more amazing, if you think about it, than the idea of Kevin Spacey's fortysomething zhlub nailing Mena Suvari on his living-room couch— none of the real-life color commentators have the good grace to evoke the Yankees' own recent perfectos, David Cone or David Wells. Instead we get Vince Scully going all incantatory: "He's pitching against time, he's pitching against the future, he's pitching against his own mortality." Yeah, yeah, he's pitching you a screenplay.

Sam Raimi made his bones with Evil Dead just about the time Billy supposedly reached stardom with the Tigers, but this sentimental epic is a new sort of horror film. For Love of the Game is designed to put a baseball-sized lump in your throat. Well before that, however, you may feel like putting a lump on Kevin Costner's head.

American Beauty A DreamWorks release. Directed by Sam Mendes. Opens Sept. 17. FOR LOVE OF THE GAME A Universal release. Directed by Sam Raimi. Opens Sept. 17.

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