Movie review: ‘Tin Cup’

tcSometimes a film can try too hard. However, it’s something completely different when a film suffers from being forced. I truly wanted to like “Tin Cup” with Kevin Costner. Why? Simple: it’s a golf movie. After the best golf film ever, “Caddyshack,” there is a big void for a serious film about golf. Some have tried (“The Legend of Bagger Vance” or the horrific HBO effort in the film of Dan Jenkins’ novel “Dead Solid Perfect”) and most have failed. “Tin Cup” came out the same year as Adam Sandler’s signature golf comedy “Happy Gilmore” (click here for my review) and looked to bring the same magic to golf that “Bull Durham” brought to baseball eight years earlier. It was made by the same guy, but fell apart right after the opening credits and never managed to fully establish itself. “Tin Cup” doesn’t just try too hard, it is forced to the point that it is excruciating to watch.

‘Tin Cup’
(1996; 135 minutes; rated R; directed by Ron Shelton and starring Kevin Costner, Rene Russo and Don Johnson)

‘TIN CUP’ IS TOO FORCED TO BE A GREAT GOLF FLICK

Before the golf movie “Tin Cup,” there was the baseball movie “Bull Durham.” The latter set a standard as a film that conveyed the almost spiritual presence of a sport in contemporary America through the obvious love of a game that is called our national pastime. With “Tin Cup,” however, Ron Sheldon, the creator of “Bull Durham,” strikes out – or should I say makes a double bogey – in the arena of golf after previously hitting a homerun in baseball.

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It’s too bad that “Tin Cup” doesn’t make such a mark on golf. It’s not like it doesn’t have a lot going for it: a creative plot; an intelligent screenplay; and a wonderful cast – with especially nice turns by supporting actors Cheech Marin and, surprisingly, by Don Johnson. However, headliners Kevin Costner and Rene Russo don’t really click in “Tin Cup” and he’s certainly not as effective as he was in “Field of Dreams,” much less his best in “Bull Durham,” and she’s nowhere near bringing the heat she would in the remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair” three years later (click here for my review).

The bright light coming from the film is from Johnson and Marin. The work of both keep “Tin Cup” from becoming dreck and neither received much credit for the film (although Marin was nominated for an NCLR Bravo Award for best actor).

For all its promise, “Tin Cup” is simply forced. Sheldon tries to force the issue from the first moments after the opening credits (which run over some great scenery and the Texas Tornados’ rendition of “A Little Bit is Better Than Nada”) and then forces it completely to the breaking point with Costner’s almost-soliloquy about the beauty of the sport while giving his first lesson to Russo. It forces golf lore (nothing more than stereotypes in the film), it forces relationships and it forces just about everything else.

Too bad. There is just as much about the game of golf to explore in film as there was in baseball for “Bull Durham.” However, Sheldon must have grown much more impatient in his story telling in the eight years between films. “Bull Durham” was his first at director and then three (including the mind-numbing “White Men Can’t Jump”) before doing “Tin Cup.” After the first quarter of the film “Tin Cup” falls completely apart and never recovers. By the end, you’re praying for the end credits to roll.

In brief, the plot is about a down-on-his-luck driving range pro (Costner) who gets tangled up with his former nemesis and current top pro golfer (Johnson). Johnson can’t match Costner’s skill, but he has him beat in knowing how to use what talent he has to its best ability. Russo is the woman who is Johnson’s girlfriend and a psychiatrist. She winds up in Costner’s bed and coaching his mental side to prepare for the U.S. Open.

Of course by the time it spins out, the movie has become treacle with stereotypes – such as Costner breaking all but one club in his bag or hitting a bunch of shots into the water at the U.S. Open – and an ending that you see coming a mile away. Yawn and on to the next one.

Here’s a look at “Tin Cup” by the work of some of the main cast:

  • Costner plays “Roy ‘Tin Cup’ McAvoy” and does a competent and almost commendable job considering the material. He is good at being affable, fun and frustratingly adolescent in his approach to responsibility. I can’t think of any other actor who could have done the job, but, sad to say, Costner doesn’t bring any real magic to elevate the character. Costner won two Oscars for “Dances with Wolves” (director and film) but I like him better in “American Flyers” (click here for my review), the little-remembered “No Way Out” and even in a smaller role in “Silverado” (click here for my review). He also did a good job in a bad film about football, “Draft Day” (click here for my review), making him a four-sport actor – baseball, football, golf and bicycle racing.
  • Russo plays “Dr. Molly Griswold” and is at first Johnson’s girlfriend before falling for Costner’s charms. Like Costner, Russo is smooth and competent, but also like Costner, she doesn’t really take full charge of her character and make it truly memorable. I wish Russo could have done the job in “Tin Cup” that she did in “Big Trouble” with Tim Allen (click here for my review), but it wasn’t meant to be. Russo was also in “Get Shorty” (click here for my review) and her second film was the iconic baseball flick “Major League” (click here for my review).
  • One of the two best work by supporting actors is by Johnson, who plays accomplished PGA pro “David Simms.” Once in Costner’s shadow back in college, he’s now the star but not as good on the course as Costner (who has to fight his inner demons). Johnson is excellent here as he balances showing everyone a nice personality while the seedy edge to his real persona peeks out now and then. Quite a quality turn from a Golden Globe winning actor who doesn’t always get the respect he deserves for “Tin Cup.” Johnson is most famous for TV’s stylish and popular “Miami Vice” and has been in such varied efforts as “Django Unchained,” TV’s “Nash Bridges” and “The Other Woman.”
  • The other great performance by a supporting actor is from Cheech Marin, who plays caddy “Romeo Posar.” Marin, who was Johnson’s buddy in “Nash Bridges,” is a delight to watch as he is foil of Costner’s lunges of stupidity. He turns his character from one side to the other – from betting on which insect will die in a bug light to the voice of reason that’s never hear by Johnson. I also liked Marin’s wonderfully varied effort with several characters in “From Dusk Till Dawn” (click here for my review), but since that gorefest nears a reprehensible level of violence it’s difficult to give him props for the great job he did. He has also voiced in “The Lion King.”

As for the rest, the supporting cast as an ensemble is very solid. None manage to stand out (although Mickey Jones as “Turk” makes an effort) but without them the film wouldn’t have even gotten out of the starting gate. Also, the golf pros making cameos (Gary McCord, Craig Stadler and Peter Jacobsen) don’t embarrass themselves – and that means a good job in potentially tough situation.

In the end, “Tin Cup” isn’t very good and isn’t in my mind a truly signature golf movie. It is all about golf and has some really excellent golf moments (such as when Johnson scams Costner by hitting his ball down a road in a long-drive bet), but I guess I grade it down because I expected so much from it.

Tin Cup” was the 28th ranked film in the U.S. in 1996 with $53.8 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. Made on a budget of $45 million, “Tin Cup” brought in a total of $75.8 million worldwide, according to Wiki. The No. 1 film of the year was “Independence Day” with $306.1 million. Films from that year I’ve reviewed include:

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Both Pierce Brosnan and Alec Baldwin were considered for the “David Simms” role that ultimately went to Johnson. The Brit connection with Brosnan would have been interesting, but Baldwin is a talentless hack and “Tin Cup” is simply bad enough not to need his noise. Besides, Johnson turned out to be the perfect casting here.
  • Janine Turner reportedly turned down the part ultimately given to Russo. Just like with Brosnan instead of Johnson, this one might have been interesting but I’m glad they stayed with Russo.
  • I won’t comment on the initial consideration of John Leguizamo for the part of “Romeo” other than to say thank goodness that sad thought didn’t come to fruition.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The Actual Location of Salome, TX, appears to be the town of Rankin, TX which is located south of Midland, TX, and in between Fort Stockton, TX, and San Angelo, TX, based on the opening credits at the intersection of Texas 329, and North/South 67.”
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: ‘When filming at the Tubac Golf Resort in the Arizona desert, the script called for a water hazard. Since there were none on the course the filmmakers built one and named it “Tin Cup Lake.’”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2016.
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