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Bull Durham: Special Edition

MGM Home Video

Starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins

Written and directed by Ron Shelton

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

Bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded. Durham Bulls down by three. Two outs, two strikes, a foul. Pennant on the line. Crash Davis brushes a film of dirt from the plate. With the din of the cheering crowd melting into an indecipherable roar, Crash eyes down the pitcher with a steely glare.

"Bring me the heat," he mutters. "Bring it, Meat."

In slow motion, the pitcher winds back into his pitch and thrusts forward a swerving ball at a breakneck pace. Crash's eyes lock on his rocketing target. His bat connects with a thundering crack. The ball launches into orbit and out of the park. Crash rounds the bases as the crowd erupts into a victorious hurrah. His teammates swarm him before he ever reaches home plate. Roll credits.

That never happens in Bull Durham. When Ron Shelton makes a movie about sports — and he usually does — he doesn't bother with buzzer-beating, game-winning clichés. As a signal that Shelton was having none of that in Bull Durham (his debut as a director), when veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) first steps up to bat for the Bulls, a wide-eyed boy hands him a rag for his bat and asks the minor league veteran to get a hit. Crash's reply to this earnest request: "Shut up."

Having spent 10 years in the lower leagues — and only 21 days in the majors — Crash is mournfully approaching the end of a record-breakingly mediocre journeyman career. When the Durham Bulls bring him in to shepherd and mentor an undisciplined rookie pitcher, Crash understands that his oft-unrequited love for the game of baseball has finally jilted him for a younger player. And not just any player: Ebby Calvin Laloosh (Tim Robbins) is the ultimate dunderhead — a dimwitted slob with "a million dollar arm and a five cent head." Crash, whose career was prolonged by his canny intelligence, has little patience with his thick, arrogant protégé.

Also running out of patience is Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), the Bulls' most dedicated fan. Baseball is both her religion and her love life — she can talk about baseball in specifics and abstracts, and she takes on one player a season, promising he'll find the best form of his career during their affair. She sizes up both Crash and "Nuke" Laloosh for her annual project, but is stuck with the impetuous youngster when Crash decides he's too old to play her fickle game.

Shelton, who was himself once a minor league baseball player, has only a passing interest in the outcomes of individual games. Bull Durham is a loving and poignant look at the far-from-star-studded athletes who play minor league sports and the dedicated fans who delight in the pure art of sport. Although most remember Bull Durham for Crash's famous (and, frankly, embarrassingly overwritten) speech about his personal beliefs, the true quality of Bull Durham is best illustrated by Costner's moving recount of Crash's brief Major League career. Shelton understands that the pursuit of the athlete is the pursuit of virtually unreachable dreams.

Not that Bull Durham is so serious — Shelton has a gift for humor, and Robbins carries the comic weight of the film with a star-making performance as the clueless Laloosh. Although Sarandon's character might be a bit too brazenly eccentric for some tastes, she sells the role with her stubborn strength and sexy vulnerability, and Costner cements his star power with a smart and charismatic performance, showing a keen knack for light comedy that he seldom exploits in his habit of taking on pseudo-mythical "hero" roles.

MGM's re-release of Bull Durham on DVD comes in a good Special Edition, with a clean 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer (with a full-frame transfer tucked away on the disc's flipside) and Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. In addition to the top-notch commentary by Ron Shelton included with the film's first DVD incarnation, a second commentary has been added featuring Costner and Robbins, who bring the perspective of two accomplished directors to their laid back and nostalgic reminiscence. Both stars come across as intelligent, candid, and very down-to-earth in one of the better thespian commentaries around. Also included are a new half-hour documentary, including interviews with Shelton, Costner, Sarandon and Robbins, as well as a few former Bulls players, a photo gallery, a trailer, plus a brief "Sports Wrap" pre-release promo for the film and an even shorter "Kevin Costner Profile" from the same era.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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