Tin Cup (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Saying that Tin Cup may be the best-ever "golf motion picture" isn't exactly high praise, considering the competition (Caddyshack, Happy Gilmore), but it's true nonetheless. In fact, as sports movies go (regardless of the sport), this one turns in a respectable showing, injecting some intelligence and maturity into a story that easily could have succumbed to a flood of "struggling underdog" clich├ęs. That's not to say that elements of the formula aren't here, but they rarely threaten to overwhelm Tin Cup's better aspects.

When it comes to making sports movies, no one has shown more aptitude than Ron Shelton, whose writing and directing credits include films about baseball (Bull Durham, Cobb), basketball (Blue Chips, White Men Can't Jump), football (The Best of Times), boxing (The Great White Hype), and now golf. Shelton has structured Tin Cup a little like Bull Durham, interweaving an adult romance with the story of a man struggling to find self-respect through the sport he loves. However, while romantic subplots are frequently used as side dishes for motion picture athletic contests, Shelton keeps the two disparate elements of his movie on equal footing, which lends a sense of balance to the finished product.

One of the most laudable characteristics of Tin Cup is that the script never condescends to either of the main characters. These aren't two mismatched caricatures engaging in a series of familiar romantic moves. Crisp, thoughtful dialogue replaces the empty banter we've become accustomed to in screen love stories. There's a believability and depth to both Kevin Costner's Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy and Rene Russo's Molly Griswold, and the understated manner in which they relate to each other is a welcome change-of-pace during this season of loud, ostentatious explosions. And, while the chemistry between Costner and Russo doesn't sizzle, they work together in a comfortable, relaxed manner. As Roy puts it, they fit like a pair of old shoes.

The story centers around the title character, an aging club pro who lives in a Winnebago in the lonely west Texas town of Salome. He spends his day in the company of his best friend, Romeo (Cheech Marin), working for $7 an hour at a deserted driving range. Once upon a time, Roy had a bright golfing future ahead of him, but he blew his cool on the links, went for the trick shot instead of the smart one, and failed to qualify for the tour. Since then, he has been hiding out in obscurity, picking up cash where he can, and watching bitterly as his old college partner, Dave Simms (Don Johnson), "a rich, happy, soulless" man, rises through the PGA ranks.

One day, Roy's marginal existence is turned upside down by the arrival of a woman psychologist named Molly Griswold. She wants to take golf lessons to impress her boyfriend. To the men of Salome, the concept of a female doctor is a revelation, and, in one of the film's more slyly amusing scenes, they watch eagerly as Roy teaches her the basics of hitting a golf ball, wondering how "such a pretty girl can have such an ugly swing." It doesn't take long for Roy to fall in love with Molly, so it comes as a blow when she reveals that her boyfriend is none other than Dave Simms. Roy then decides that a grand gesture is needed to win her -- something like qualifying for the U.S. Open and beating Dave in front of a national TV audience.

Although this may sound like a very familiar, traditional sports movie, don't worry -- Shelton applies enough tweaks and twists to the formulaic story to keep us interested and a little unsure of the outcome. The experience is akin to following a often-traveled road then suddenly taking a detour onto a parallel, but nevertheless different, course. Tin Cup isn't concerned with blazing new trails -- that's beyond its scope or ambition. Instead, it's content to offer a pleasantly likable, gently comic two hours of simple life lessons, with golf as the obvious metaphor.

As the saying goes, you don't have to appreciate the sport to enjoy the movie. Undoubtedly, however, the film makers are hoping that the burgeoning popularity of golf will help at the box office. This is the first such movie to boast cameos by top-notch players, including Corey Pavin, Fred Couples, and Lee Janzen. Still, Tin Cup has a broad enough appeal that intimate knowledge of the joys and frustrations of playing 18 holes isn't necessary. This movie ranks as better-than-par entertainment.

Tin Cup (United States, 1996)

Director: Ron Shelton
Cast: Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Linda Hart, Dennis Burkley
Screenplay: John Norville and Ron Shelton
Cinematography: Russell Boyd
Music: William Ross
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 2:10
U.S. Release Date: 1996-08-16
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1