by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob “Double Play” DiCristino.
Adam: And I’m Adam “Hit and Run” Riske.
Bull Durham, written and directed by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton (Tin Cup, White Men Can’t Jump). It’s the story of Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), the minor league Durham North Carolina Bulls’ new flamethrowing pitching prospect, and Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), the veteran catcher tasked with teaching the young upstart the rules of the game. Though they don’t see eye to eye on everything, both men are transfixed by the high priest of the Church of Baseball (Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy) and her homespun lessons on sex, spirituality, manhood, and the importance of following through with your swing.
Bull Durham, while certainly flawed, is one of my favorite baseball movies because it embraces how superstitious a game it is, how much of it is fueled by customs and belief. It’s equal parts raunchy and romantic, and it sports three career-best performances from Sarandon, Robbins, and Costner. Adam, what are your thoughts on Bull Durham?
I’m avoiding your question, aren’t I? Sigh. I don’t like Bull Durham overall. It’s a movie I have a lot of problems with. I think the movie has a very good last 30 minutes, and Costner is terrific in it (he’s still in his ‘80s loose period before being a more straight arrow lead in the ‘90s), but I can do without almost everything up until Tim Robbins goes on his winning streak and Kevin Costner calls Susan Sarandon out on her bullshit. It’s much more of a romance than a baseball movie (the way fans of the movie praise it for its baseball insight I get more from Major League) and I just am not on board with the Susan Sarandon character and performance at all. Everything with her and Tim Robbins is not my tempo. It’s weird, because I think Susan Sarandon is one of the sexiest actresses ever, but not in Bull Durham. On this viewing, I kept thinking how much I don’t like her and would prefer to be involved with Millie (Jenny Robertson), her groupie apprentice. Millie just seems sweet. Annie (Sarandon) is a nightmare.
Chasing Amy, another one of my favorite movies, whose well-meaning but old-fashioned sexual politics and overwrought narrative voice often gets in the way of true greatness. I must just be a mark for this kind of thing. The truth is that Bull Durham is more a series of great scenes than a great movie. I love Sarandon’s insistence that Millie wasn’t “lured” into the locker room for sex, that a woman is far too powerful for that. I love Crash’s belief that strikeouts are fascist and that ground balls are democratic. I love the meeting at the mound where the Bulls debate what to get Millie for her wedding shower and how to find a live chicken to get the curse off of Jose’s (Rick Marzan) glove (“We’re dealing with a lot of shit”). It’s frankly insane that a story wonk like me would give something as choppy and incomplete as Bull Durham a pass, but I do. That stuff works for me and carries the rest across the finish line. Was there anything you DID like?
Adam: Oh, c’mon now...I said some stuff I liked. You hit the nail on the head that the movie stops cold for big screenwriter flourishes, and sometimes they’re funny (the wedding shower gift meeting on the mound, how to handle interviews in the majors) but other times it’s obnoxious to me (Costner’s monologue about what he believes in with love and baseball). I don’t want to shit on a movie you like, though, so I’m going to sidestep a bit because I think I made my point of what I don’t like about Bull Durham already. The film has some very good observations about baseball here and there (e.g. even though Crash is in his early thirties, he’s basically a senior citizen in minor league lifespan) and Costner is such a charming S.O.B. in this movie that it remains watchable. I like Crash Davis so much that I want the whole movie to be him as the focus and it doesn’t really pivot to being Crash-heavy until Robbins is called up to the majors (for the Braves, if the film is following the Durham Bulls affiliate history). I’m a Ron Shelton fan and I definitely think Bull Durham is the case of a guy who has had this film in his brain and heart for so long that he pours everything onto the page and screen. It just isn’t for me, oddly enough. I much prefer his next sports movie, White Men Can’t Jump, which is one of my favorite comedies of all time and I think solves the problems I had with his female lead in Bull Durham. Rosie Perez in White Men Can’t Jump feels similar but more developed, to me at least.
This is going to be an interesting series for me as we go through a bunch of baseball films because I honestly have no idea what my favorites are. Every time I go back to one, I seem to not be as hot on it as I once was.
Before we wrap up: Are we Mark Ahn or Off on Robert Wuhl as a baseball coach? I feel like this is the role he was born to play, especially after we just suffered through him as Knox in Batman.
Adam: To be clear, I’m not saying you or anyone else is wrong for liking (or loving) Bull Durham or have to apologize/make excuses for it. I’m definitely in the minority on this one. Sometimes I see comments from people about a movie getting a Riske seal of approval, and that’s flattering but meaningless as long as you have your own opinion or take. I honestly feel gross for not liking Bull Durham, like a big old wet blanket. Oh well. I like Field of Dreams...at least, I think I do. We’ll get to that one eventually.
Robert Wuhl has never been better than in Bull Durham. He’s also in Cobb, Ron Shelton’s biopic about Hall of Famer/prick Ty Cobb. Shelton-Wuhl seem to get along. Glad he wasn’t cast in White Men Can’t Jump, though. I don’t think the world would have been ready for those Wuhl-Perez love scenes. Too hot, ya know? Speaking of too hot, what was with Sarandon and all her dumb candles? Her house is going to catch on fire. Her house looks like an estate sale more than a place a woman in her forties in 1988 would live in. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. I’m done. Mark Off for me on Bull Durham. What do you want to review next week?
Rob: She’s like an old-timey Southern belle with nothing to do but bang baseball players. I like when Crash is like, “Do you have a JOB!? What do you even DO?” Anyway, it’s a rare split decision here at Reserved Seating, as I am decidedly Mark Ahn for Bull Durham.
Next week, we’ll go All Pacino with Sidney Lumet’s ‘70s crime classic, Serpico. Until next time…
Adam: These box seats are reserved.