Costner + Sports = Good Movies by Jeff Lyons
Kevin Costner makes good movies. Good sports movies. In fact, three of Costner’s films have made into my personal top 10 of best sports movies of all time.
• Bull Durham. Costner plays the irascible Crash Davis, the grizzled veteran of the minor leagues. Upon his demotion to A ball he learns his job is to show Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (played by a wonderfully goofy Tim Robbins) how to be a professional ballplayer. Crash schools Nuke on how to talk, prepare and act like a ballplayer. The film captures the charm and small-time feel of the low minor leagues and Crash’s soliloquy on his beliefs is worth the price of admission (or DVD rental). It’s smart, funny and just good baseball.
• Field of Dreams and The Natural (tie). When I heard that W.P. Kinsella’s book “Shoeless Joe” was being turned into a movie, I cringed. There was no way Hollywood could do justice to this novel. I was wrong. I loved the movie more than book. Field of Dreams is a mystical tale of a farmer (played by Costner) who hears a voice that tells him to plow under his corn and build a baseball field so disgraced baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson can come back and play. Even the grouchiest of moviegoers is reduced to sniffles and thanks to Costner, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan, Ray Liotta and Frank Whaley. A must-see for fathers and sons.
In The Natural, Robert Redford is Roy Hobbs, the man from nowhere, who helps the hapless New York Knights out of last place. It’s another magical movie, and the scene with Hobbs’ last at-bat is a Hollywood classic.
• Slap Shot stars Paul Newman as the player-coach of the fictional Charlestown Chiefs, a floundering minor league hockey club. To drum up interest in the team, Newman’s Reggie Dunlop manufactures a rumor that the club is being sold to a group of senior citizen investors in Florida. The team adds the goofy Hanson Brothers to its roster, and the results are nightly bench-clearing brawls and a growing and passionate fan base. It’s funny, it’s crude and it’s old-time hockey. This 1977 film is a must-see for any sports fan.
• Tin Cup is another Costner effort, but this time the game is golf. Costner’s Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy is a golf pro at a scrubby Texas driving range who dreams of making it to the big time and winning the heart of the girlfriend of the evil David Simms (Rene Russo and Don Johnson).
• In Eight Men Out, we learn why eight players from the 1919 Chicago White Sox decided to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The Sox were owned by the notoriously cheap Charles Comiskey and the players tanked it for the money. John Cusack is outstanding as tormented third baseman Buck Weaver and D.B. Sweeney portrays Shoeless Joe Jackson with an understated aura of sorrow. The film shows us the gamblers (Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd) who approach the Sox and the players (including Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn and Michael Rooker) who ultimately take the cash. John Mahoney looks and sounds like a big-league manager in his portrayal of Kid Gleason.
• Rocky. Everybody loves an underdog. But did we really need four sequels? • The Rookie is the real-life story of Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid), a one-time baseball phenom with a blown-out elbow, now coaching high school players in Texas. He promises his team he’ll try out for the big leagues one last time if they can come together and make it to the playoffs. It’s corny, but it’s good fun. You find yourself pulling for Morris and his scruffy little team. My favorite scene is where Quaid stops his truck along the highway next to a big sign that reads motorists’ speed. He grabs his glove and a ball and decides to see just how hard he can throw.
• Hoosiers is set in basketball-crazy Indiana in the 1950s. Gene Hackman is the coach of tiny Hickory High School, where he’s come to escape his checkered past and get the most out of his players. Dennis Hopper was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Shooter, the town drunk who winds up helping Hackman coach the team.
• The Bad News Bears (1976) had Walter Matthau as the sauced-up coach of a Little League team. The kids are mean and funny and not very good. Having spent the last six years around Little Leaguers, this movie is very realistic and very, very funny.
• Caddyshack is one of those movies you find yourself quoting almost every day. Well, I do. It’s one of the goofiest sports movies ever made, with over-the top performances from Bill Murray and Ted Knight.