ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

“Hit me in the chest with that.”, dares Minor League veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), tossing a baseball to the young and brash hotshot pitcher, Ebby LaLoosh (Tim Robbins). “I’d kill you.”, LaLoosh replies. “Yeah, from what I hear, you couldn’t hit water if you fell out a fucking boat.”, taunts Davis as LaLoosh then wildly whizzes the ball past Davis in a misfired attempt that smashes through the bar entrance window.

Bull Durham revolves around the lives of three individuals: the aforementioned Davis and LaLoosh, and Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a devoted baseball enthusiast and die-hard fan of the local Durham Bulls, who each year selects one of the good players to be her lover. She’s just doing what she can for the team, after all. Why one lover per year? Well, if you know anything about Minor League Baseball, if you’re good enough, eventually the “Big Show” calls you up.

While Annie has her sights on both the seasoned veteran and the young, impetuous rookie, Crash has been called upon by the team to take “Nuke” LaLoosh under his wing in order to bring some control to that “million dollar arm” of his.

Writer/director Ron Shelton is no stranger to sports themed films having also written and directed White Men Can’t Jump (basketball)and Tin Cup (golf). From 1967-71, Shelton played in the Minor Leagues for the Baltimore Orioles organization, and that fact is clearly evident as you watch Bull Durham, his rookie film. They say write what you know first. Shelton sure knows his baseball and he knows his characters.

That’s exactly what makes this film such a great time. These are wonderfully written characters. Even something like a thankless role in the broken down catcher nearing the end of his career is brought to life by Shelton and Costner. It’s not just the three leads either, ’cause we get more than just a glimpse of the rest of the team. Trey Wilson and Robert Wuhl each get a few moments to shine as the team’s coaches and the variety of Durham players add a little something amongst Costner and Robbins, be it in the locker room, the dugout, or a group meeting on the mound (one of the funniest moments in the film).

Say what you want about Kevin Costner’s many misfires throughout the 90′s (Waterworld, The Postman, Dragonfly), the man clearly has a love for baseball as well, having done this film along with Field of Dreams and the underrated For Love of the Game. Bull Durham may very well be his best performance, or at the least, top three. On paper, Costner may be playing the “jaded veteran training the hotshot young gun”, but between Shelton’s brilliant dialogue and the chemistry generated by both Costner and Robbins (in a breakthrough performance), the three manage to transcend a cliche pairing we’ve seen millions of times before.

“You don’t respect yourself. That’s your problem, but you also don’t respect the game. That’s my problem.”, Crash tells Nuke. Crash has had a short stint in the Majors before falling back to the Minors. It didn’t work for him, but he sees an MLB star in the making in Nuke just wasting away his potential simply ’cause he already owns a Porsche. That’s what irks Crash the most about Nuke, a “million dollar arm and a five cent head”. He had his chance in the “Big Show” and fell short. Nuke could be a shoo-in, but is a typical rookie that thinks he can skate on by.

Completing the love triangle is Susan Sarandon in one of her most memorable roles. The role of Annie Savoy could’ve been played up as a tramp. Sarandon certainly brings sass and sexiness to Annie, but she also brings intelligence, wit and personality as well, all perfectly played out in a humorous scene where she ties a horny Nuke to her bed… then reads Walt Whitman to him.

“Who does he play for?”, Nuke asks. Sums up each character just right.

Today, the term “love triangle” usually leads to eye-rolls, and for good reason. It works here primarily due to the stars involved and the people they’re playing. Crash obviously has an attraction to Annie, but is more puzzled by her “support” of the team and wants nothing of it (which he explains in a funny rant about what he believes in). Nuke’s getting laid and that’s all he cares about. That is, until he gets a good streak going and goes to great lengths to not jinx it. Annie – who coaches Nuke about the game almost as much as Crash does – is all about being that sexual mascot for the team, but as the film goes on, she begins to question whether she wants something more or not.

Do you need to know baseball to get this film? Absolutely not. It doesn’t hurt, but that’s not to say you won’t enjoy this film if you don’t. It’s an unconventional sports comedy, but it’s one of the wittiest, sexiest, authentic and smartly written baseball films ever made with a perfect “anti-climatic” ending. Look no further than Ron Shelton and his love and knowledge of America’s Pastime as to why. Along with three terrific performances from Costner, Sarandon and Robbins (backed up by a funny supporting cast), Bull Durham will have you laughing and also make you think about what really goes on in those catcher-pitcher meetings during actual baseball games.

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