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Tin Cup  

Starring: Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin Directed by: Ron Shelton Written by: Ron Shelton and John Norville

Watching Ron Shelton's movies, I am often reminded of how, in so many other films, the motives of characters are dictated by what the plot needs them to do. Shelton's films aren't like that - they're about people, plain and simple. His characters make their own decisions; sometimes smart ones, many times dumb ones, but the decisions are always their own, and that's why we find his characters fascinating. The characters in "Tin Cup" are no different. (Warning: specific plot points ahead.)


The film stars Kevin Costner as Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy, a golfer who at one time had an incredibly promising future while golfing for the University of Texas, but who never made it to the pro circuit because of a debilitation - not an injury, mind you, but a habit of not finishing anything he starts. Instead, he operates a run-down driving range, lives in a parked Winnebago, eats doughnuts for every meal of the day, and spends his extra time betting with his leisure-buddies on brain-teasing riddles. He's not looking for anything else in life; this will suit him just fine.

That's until a beautiful psychologist named Molly Griswald (Rene Russo) enters and asks him for some golfing lessons. He is smitten. Everything is different now. There is some meaning in his life, and he must immediately profess his love for her, which he does in the only way good ol' Roy knows how: "Molly, as soon as I saw you, I knew I was done with bar girls, and strippers, and motorcycle chicks. . ." But there's a problem; she's involved with someone else - David Simms (Don Johnson), a hotshot golf pro who used to be partners with Roy in college, and is a bit disgusted at the life path Roy has taken. How can he win her over? Maybe if he entered the U.S. Open, he could prove himself worthy of her love.

There's a certain simplicity in what Ron Shelton's characters want out of life that makes them so appealing. Roy doesn't enter the U.S. Open to find some deep-seeded meaning in life, nor to capture the lost glory that eluded him after his college days - he just wants to win over a beautiful woman. The characters in "Tin Cup", "Bull Durham", and "White Men Can't Jump" aren't out to change the world, but rather to find happiness - just plain happiness. That's why I think it's easy to identify with his characters. Too many Hollywood movies make the mistake of creating characters that pander to a certain portion of the audience. Shelton's characters act in their own best interest; that's why they're so likable.

Shelton and his co-writer John Norville also have fun with the eccentricities and superstitions of golfers themselves. There is a terrific sequence where Roy and his caddy, Romeo (Cheech Marin) are in a disagreement involving what club should be used to make a particular shot. The way that scene plays out is outrageous, and surprisingly logical, given the personalities of the two men. In another scene, when Molly starts her first golf lesson, she pulls out a bunch of "contraptions" and "devices" that a golf store clerk talked her into buying, so as to help improve her game. Some of those "devices" are absolutely hysterical.

After some dull performances in "The War" and "Waterworld", Kevin Costner is back on track here. He's terrific as the not-too-smart-but-always-lovable Roy McAvoy. His goofy charm shines throughout the film. Rene Russo turns in another fine comedic performance here, as she did in "Get Shorty". Her range continues to grow with each new performance. And Don Johnson holds his own quite well here, playing someone egotistical and self-absorbed, but also quick-witted and sharp, as he demonstrates in a bet he makes with Roy on who can drive a golf ball the furthest. Perhaps the nicest surprise is Cheech Marin, who nearly steals every scene he's in as Romeo, Roy's bright caddy who has the perfect solution for curing a case of the "shanks".

There must be a certain feeling of absolute empowerment and utter joy when a golfer hits that "perfect" shot. Yes, scoring well is good, but I'd be willing to bet that it just doesn't compare to the sheer thrill of striking that little white ball so perfectly that it tingles throughout one's arms, shoulders, and upper body, then watching it ferociously cut through the air, sailing directly toward the yellow flag that stands above it's target. Something tells me that for a golfer, nothing else comes quite that close to that feeling. That's why the film's conclusion really works. Sure, he's being stubborn, but if that's what makes him happy, he won't stop until he gets it - just plain happiness.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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