In Tin Cup, Kevin Costner swaps his swim fins for a three-wood and hits one down the middle of the fairway.
Costner has, I think, always come off better playing ordinary guys--the aging bush-leaguer of Bull Durham, the farmer who reconciles with his father's ghost in Field of Dreams--than stainless-steel superheroes like The Bodyguard or the web-toed adventurer in the disastrous Waterworld. In Ron Shelton's new romantic comedy, Costner is life-sized again as Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy, a failed golfer so "chock-full of demons" that he's spent the last thirteen years swilling beer and watching the armadillos crawl around his ratty driving range in West Texas. A superb ball-striker, Roy is also "chock-full" of testosterone and resentment, and that's landed him in life's major hazard. But when a beautiful psychologist (Rene Russo) with some problems of her own and his pompous old rival (Don Johnson), who's at the top of the PGA tour, lay some real motivation on him, he has to take one more swing at the big time.
Director Shelton, who makes Hollywood's most intelligent sports movies--Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump, the underappreciated Cobb--knows how to layer a story, so Tin Cup isn't just another formula picture in which the little guy makes good. The goofy courtship between Tin Cup and Dr. Molly Griswold (with Johnson's insufferable David Simms standing between them) is genuinely funny and moving, and the golf--usually the stuff of broad farce, à la Caddyshack--is pretty thrilling, too. Shelton and company recruited two dozen top pros--Fred Couples, Craig Stadler, Peter Jacobsen et al.--for the film's fictional version of the U.S. Open, where the cocky driving-range pro from Texas makes a run at the title and we see (and hear) the game on the big screen, as it really is, for the first time.
Tin Cup's funky cheering section features Cheech Marin as his caddy, Romeo, Linda Hart as Doreen, the ex-girlfriend who owns a strip joint, and some other types who eat at the Waffle House even when their man sets the course record. That may remind you of another long shot named Rocky Balboa, but not even Rocky beat a guy using a baseball bat, a shovel, a hoe and a rake. Out on the links, Tin Cup pulls that off, and he still has time to rhapsodize about the game he loves. "I tend to think of the golf swing as a poem," he says, "as a living sculpture."
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Doesn't everybody, even as they're mired in the trap? Costner, at least, has blasted free. The smart, lively Tin Cup represents a major comeback from the terrors of Waterworld.
Tin Cup. Screenplay by John Norville and Ron Shelton. Directed by Ron Shelton. With Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Don Johnson and Cheech Marin.