TIN CUP (1996) ** 1/2
Readers who make a beeline for the ratings of reviews, please note that from a filmic point of view "Tin Cup" rates two stars but for golf enthusiasts three. Average: two-and-a-half.
Writer-director Ron Shelton's credentials are first-rate. He is a former minor league baseball player who knows his sports and their milieu. He brings to his sports movies technical interest, human interest, humor and very good characterizations. He made "Bull Durham" (with Costner), "White Men Can't Jump," "Blue Chips," the underrated "Cobb," the wildly amusing "The Best of Times," (script) as well as two excellent but also somewhat underrated political films :"Under Fire" (writer, second unit director) and "Blaze."
"Tin Cup" is about Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy (Costner), the golf pro of a driving range in Salome, in West Texas. To call the place seedy, shabby or threadbare would be a compliment. Roy, a former golf champion at the University of Houston, has fallen into bad times because of his eccentric and extreme risk-taking in golf. Now he lives at the range in a decrepit Winnebago --outside of which is a child's plastic pool called "The Spa"-- with his friend-mentor-caddy Romeo (Cheech Marin). Roy is surrounded by a small coterie of boozing good ole' boys, whose own means of support are by and large mysterious.
It's a colorful, Tobacco Road-like setup, but this overlong movie's sluggish tempo did make me look at my watch more than once. Another debit is that excessive picturesqueness strains credibility, especially as Roy seems to be entirely client-less. Who pays for the gas, beer and doughnuts? Until, that is, a Junoesque blonde shows up. She is Molly Griswold (ex-supermodel Rene Russo), no, change this to Doctor Griswold, as Molly holds a degree in psycho-something. By coincidence, she's the new shrink in Selena. As things develop, especially in a later scene (one of the film's best) when she blurts out her own imperfections, she's a lousy shrink. By comparison, Ann Landers deserves a Pulitzer Prize for counseling.
Molly wants instruction to impress her boyfriend David Simms (Johnson), a rising-star pro golfer. By coincidence, David was Roy's colleague and competitor at the University of Houston, and apparently a man unburdened by ethics. By coincidence, David shows up at the range. Slick and self-possessed, he briefly reminisces to Roy about the school and the days "where we won all them titles together." The University must have done more good to David's golf than to his grammar.
He offers a job to Roy who thinks is as a player but turns out to be as a caddy. Thereby hang complications and escalations leading to Roy playing in the U.S. Open. They also lead to the inevitable Roy-Molly affair, a weak side of the movie. The initial rapprochement is too cute and, like much else in the film, exaggerated. The contrast between unkempt Roy and perfectly groomed Molly in blindingly virginal white -- the stuff Hollywood movies love-- is all the more unlikely since even being way downwind from Roy must be an experience in redolence.
On the other hand, on a 1 to 10 scale of expressivity, Costner rates a 5, Russo a 2, so they are pretty well matched. They are also matched in age (both over 40), in brains (simplistic), in accents (vague). The intonations are certainly not Texan. (Both actors and the director are South Californians). Molly and Roy are, however, preciously mismatched in verbal expression. She is a no-nonsense pragmatist. He is a philosopher and mystic who delivers poetic paeans that sound like "Zen and the Art of Golfing."
"Tin Cup" is not free from cliches, but the culmination is a good, non-Hollywoodian twist. Predictably, it is at the U.S. Open where the big duel between Roy and David takes place. The Open is beautifully reproduced, edited and photographed, a dead ringer of the real thing, including genuine players and network sportscasters.
There are a few surprises, yet on the whole the Roy-David contrast is unconvincing. Roy is a cuckoo idealist, while David, co-opted by society, plays not only the game of golf but The Game. But while supposed to be a sneaky meanie, he is not unlikable. Around mid-film, Roy challenges David, bets his old Cadillac convertible (Caddies for Caddies?), loses. Yet within hours Molly delivers the chariot to Roy saying that David (who drives his own fancy ragtop) "has no use for it." It would seem that a true villain would love to deprive Roy of his wheels.
Director Shelton can be very good with supporting characters. First prize here goes to Cheech Marin in an original, funny-warm role, cleverly exploited. Second prize to Linda Hart as a tough-but-sweet owner of the golf range, owner-performer of a thriving strip-joint and ex-amour of Roy's. No role however, major or minor, is really developed.
Rene Russo is a tentatively original creation. She is also a problem for my spell-checker. It insists that her given name should be "Renee," since with just one "e" it is a man's name. True, there is something masculine about her face as the camera annoyingly persists in showing it in close-up, which stresses a certain lack of charisma. The excess of adoring Costner close-ups compounds the trouble. So the best way to watch "Tin Cup" is not as a sports-plus-love story, but as a plain sports movie with some novelties.