Bull Durham (DVD)

In the 14 years since the release of Ron Shelton's debut film Bull Durham, a few poor souls have insisted that it's not the greatest baseball movie ever made. They complain that the movie exaggerates the facts of minor-league life: that there are no worldly sexpot groupies, that single-A pitchers never get called up to the major leagues, that a catcher would never tip off the opposing batter to what the next pitch was going to be, and so on. Let the snoots have the mythmaking hokum of The Natural or Field Of Dreams, which are about some idealized, Americana-aggrandizing version of baseball. Bull Durham is about the rhythm, the flavor, and the mundane grind of a male-dominated world, with a little levelheaded philosophy about the democracy of baseball rubbed in. Shelton's vision of the game has nothing to do with its "healing powers"; if anything, Bull Durham shows how men's obsession with competition shreds relationships. (The same message cropped up in his later sports comedies White Men Can't Jump, Tin Cup, and Play It To The Bone, as well as his script for The Best Of Times.) What Bull Durham gets exactly right is the flow of boasts, putdowns, jokes, and surprise revelations that typify jocks' conversations, and the proportion of self-doubt and arrogance necessary to be a professional athlete. Even when Shelton stretches the particulars for seriocomic effect, Bull Durham's heart beats true. A new DVD edition of the movie carries over Shelton's commentary track from an earlier DVD, in which the writer-director talks about his own days as a minor leaguer in the Baltimore Orioles farm system, and about the inspirations for Kevin Costner's wizened veteran catcher, Tim Robbins' mush-brained pitching prospect, and Susan Sarandon's Walt Whitman-quoting seductress. Shelton confesses that he cringes at some of the film's more famous moments—like Costner's "things I believe in" speech, which was written strictly as actor bait—but he remains justly proud of how he integrated a romantic triangle into the Star Is Born-like pitcher-catcher storyline, as well as his avoidance of "big-game moments" on and off the field. The new commentary track by Costner and Robbins is less valuable, though they make a few pointed connections between life as a minor-league athlete and life as a struggling actor, and they share some entertainingly awkward joshing when Robbins' life partner Sarandon makes steamy on-screen love to Costner. Mostly, however, the two stars sit quietly, laughing at Shelton's earthy, knowing dialogue and remarking occasionally about how much they enjoy getting to know his warm, colorful characters all over again.

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