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Harnessing His Game On and Off the Course

In 'Tin Cup,' Kevin Costner shows his star quality and tries to avoid the traps when love comes calling.


There's a lot of disparaging talk in "Tin Cup" about laying up, which in golf terms means playing it safe but secure as opposed to trying something risky. That heavy disapproval turns out to be ironic, because laying up is exactly what this movie does.

A romantic comedy starring Kevin Costner as Roy McAvoy, a ne'er-do-well golf pro who tries to turn his life around after he falls in love, "Tin Cup" is directed and co-written (with John Norville) by Ron Shelton.

This is Shelton's third sports-themed light romance (after "Bull Durham" and "White Men Can't Jump") and it retains traces of his idiosyncratic charm.

It's nice to see a film set in the comically desolate West Texas town of Salome ("Where She Danced," a faded sign insists) and to hear the occasional fine line of dialogue. "The word 'normal' and him," a pal says of McAvoy, "don't often collide in the same sentence."

Yet even the most cursory comparison of "Tin Cup" with its predecessors shows up Shelton's latest film--down to its leaden series of cameos from professional golfers--as dispiritingly conventional and obvious. In the war between an original creative intelligence and the relentless Hollywood bland-out machine, Hollywood is definitely winning.

That is particularly unfortunate in this case because it squanders an appealing performance from Costner, an actor criticized so relentlessly during the making of "Waterworld" that the reasons he initially became a star were forgotten. This film reminds us why.

As "Tin Cup" McAvoy (the nickname comes from equipment worn as a baseball catcher in high school), Costner is both convincingly ordinary and seriously charismatic, a regular guy raised to a higher level. Handsome and aw-shucks awkward, he manages the trick of simply being his character rather than acting a part.

Owner of what has to be the loneliest, most dilapidated of rural driving ranges, McAvoy is a former championship-caliber golfer who's let both his life and his game ("an unfinished symphony," he calls it) disintegrate. He lives in an old Winnebago, hangs out with undemanding pals like Romeo Posar (Cheech Marin) and prefers to think he declined because "greatness courts failure."

His pals know different. Prone to blowing up, ignoring advice and pigheadedly going his own way, McAvoy is proof of what can happen when testosterone runs your life. Not even a taste for poetic description and baffling, folksy advice like "Let the big dog eat" can turn his life into a conventional success story.

That is until the beautiful and pulled-together Molly Griswold, "a pretty girl with an ugly swing," walks into his range and improbably signs up for lessons. A fast-talking psychologist who "tends to process things verbally," Griswold would no more seek McAvoy's services than have sex with an armadillo, but "Tin Cup" glibly trots her out anyway.

Not helping in the believability department is Rene Russo's forced performance as Griswold. Miscast and ill at ease in the kind of talky role that Katharine Hepburn specialized in, Russo has none of Costner's natural grace here. Trying too hard to cope with not particularly well-written dialogue (the guys get all the good lines), Russo ends up projecting an intense desperation that is no friend to romantic comedy.

That, however, does not stop Costner's McAvoy from falling wildly in love with her. Not surprisingly, the doctor already has a boyfriend, and he turns out to be David Simms (Don Johnson), a slick ex-college teammate of McAvoy who is now a big success on the pro tour and epitomizes the smug careerism that Tin Cup scorns.


Determined to win Griswold's heart, McAvoy decides that winning the U.S. Open will do the trick, a feat he is confident of accomplishing if Romeo doctors his swing and the lady shrink looks after his head. And so Tin Cup dreams the impossible dream, trying to convince anyone who'll listen that his macho determination to "stand up for all the little guys against the soulless robots" is a romantic gesture.

This kind of confusion plagues "Tin Cup" from beginning to end. The film in fact specializes in creating artificial crises and then simply ignoring them after they've served their purpose, hoping the audience won't notice how little sense things are making in the process.

Most contradictory of all is "Tin Cup's" attitude toward its namesake. The film spends the first half of the movie mocking McAvoy for ruining his life by being a headstrong jerk and then completely reverses itself and decides that that very behavior makes him a role model and a prince among men. We like the guy despite everything, but all that disarray makes it increasingly difficult to appreciate the film he's in.

* MPAA rating: R, for language and brief nudity. Times guidelines: a brief scene in a strip club.


'Tin Cup'

Kevin Costner: Roy McAvoy

Rene Russo:Dr. Molly Griswold

Cheech Marin: Romeo Posar

Don Johnson: David Johnson

Linda Hart: Doreen

A Gary Foster production, in association with Regency Enterprises, released by Warner Bros. Director Ron Shelton. Producers Gary Foster & David Lester. Executive producer Arnon Milchan. Screenplay John Norville and Ron Shelton. Cinematographer Russell Boyd. Editors Paul Seydor, Kimberly Ray. Costumes Carol Oditz. Music William Ross. Production design James Bissell. Art directors Gae Buckley, Chris Burian-Mohr. Set decorator Ric McElvin. Running time: 2 hours, 9 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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