Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray Review: Tin Cup (1996)

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The way that driving range pro Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner) sees it, all you need to win a game of golf is a trusty 7 iron — although a rake, a shovel, or a baseball bat will work in a pinch — and a dogged Don Quixote-like belief that when life hands you a defining moment, you define the moment or it defines you. And to Roy, there's no moment more loaded with existential questioning than when you're 230 yards away from the tee and the only thing standing in your way is a small body of water. Do you lay up or do you "grip it and rip it?"

Relying on instinct and adrenaline, most of the time he doesn't hesitate to grab his trusty 7 iron and "let the big dog eat," but after he meets and falls for beautiful "doctor lady" Molly Griswold (played by Rene Russo), he vows to prove to her that he isn't just a small time golf jock. Second-guessing his need to always put pride ahead of logic, especially when he discovers that her boyfriend is none other than his old college tour partner, the phony, smooth-as-silk professional golfer David Simms (Don Johnson), he sets off on a quest to win the U.S. Open, kick her boyfriend's ass, and of course, get the girl.

Reuniting with his magnetic Bull Durham star Kevin Costner at the height of the actor's fame as an internationally successful movie star in the 1990s following the The Bodyguard and Dances With Wolves, writer-director Ron Shelton's Tin Cup is much more than just the golf version of the now-contemporary classic comedy that launched his career.

Lighter and even more laid-back, while Bull Durham is perhaps the most intricate and sophisticated sports themed romcom in Shelton's filmography, this one gives us a chance to see Costner's goofy side as a man perhaps halfway between his in-control character in Durham and the one played by Tim Robbins, who was the exact opposite.

As articulate and highly verbal as ever, however, which gives Costner the chance to deliver some epic speeches penned by Shelton and his co-writer John Norville, what Roy McAvoy lacks in formal education, he makes up for with his honesty and earnestness in telling whomever is listening exactly what's on his mind at all times. Obviously unfamiliar with the concept of having a filter, whether he's telling Molly — who he first meets when she takes lessons at his driving range — to just give in and listen to that tuning fork that goes off in her loins or telling off David Simms when he caddies for him in a position that's short lived, Roy has no interest in playing anything safe.

Using sports as a metaphor for life, especially when it comes to dealing with the opposite sex or deciding what a certain golf shot says about him deep down, he and Molly make a tentative agreement to trade services, with him offering golf lessons in exchange for her help as a head doctor. Joining his best friend, trusty caddy, and swing doctor Romeo (a wonderful Cheech Marin) on the road as he wins one tournament after another to qualify for the Open, the two try to help Roy confront whatever it is about him that just refuses to play conservatively when there's an opportunity to assert his greatness.

Another fascinating look at gender and (especially) the competitiveness of straight men, both in terms of their athletic skill as well as when it comes to pursuing and possessing a member of the opposite sex, if you watch this film after Shelton's Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump, these themes hit you as hard as a 7 iron to the head. Begging to be explored in greater detail, especially as part of an overall inventory that spans the rest of the sports-centric titles of Shelton's entire filmography, much like Sofia Coppola is drawn to the period in a girl's life when she comes into her own as a self-possessed woman, Shelton's dedication to the pride and pitfalls of athletic heterosexual American males is truly captivating.

And nobody brings these affably conflicted men to life quite like Kevin Costner, who trained with former professional golfer Gary McCord to play the game well enough that a majority of the swings and shots he makes onscreen are ones legitimately hit by Costner. The inspiration for the film's gut-wrenching — so painful it's funny — climactic golf sequence where Roy must decide once and for all just which shot to take and how that translates to the man he wants to be, Costner learned so much from McCord for his Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle nominated performance that he wrote the forward to McCord's book Golf For Dummies.

A true movie star turn in that it's filled with pathos and more going on just below the surface, even when the film's scenes threaten to be a little sitcomish, Costner leads by example and Tin Cup's terrific ensemble cast — well-balanced by Don Johnson as the anti-Roy — helps center Shelton's chaotic world overall.

Additionally known for writing some extraordinarily complex roles for his leading ladies, which — punctuated by the Preston Sturges like screwball rhythm of his dialogue — are often daffy but wise, Rene Russo's scene-stealing portrayal of Molly marks Ron Shelton's last great female character, and a worthy successor to Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham and Rosie Perez in White Men Can't Jump.

As much fun to watch on its own as it is back-to-back-to-back with a few other Shelton works, the 1996 romcom has recently been given a sharp, sunshine bright transfer to Blu-ray from Warner Archive at long last and for longtime fans, the difference in picture and sound is immediately apparent. From the witty country twang of the great singer-songwriter tunes on the soundtrack that play like a southwestern Greek chorus for our West Texas driving range pro to the discernible thwack of a club soaring through the wind on its way to connect with a ball that shoots out of one's back speakers, the impact of the sound easily matches the clarity of the Blu-ray image.

Don Quixote on the eighteenth hole of life in deciding what he wants to do as well as how to play the game, much like Roy McAvoy, Tin Cup digs in and doesn't let go until we're completely won over by its audacity, brashness, and charm.

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