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Sunday, August 25, 2002
Updated: August 26, 12:09 PM ET
No Bull: 'Durham' simply stinks

By Bob Halloran
Special to Page 2

My good friend Christian is a list-maker. He has an ever-evolving list of favorite songs, favorite bands, favorite movies, etc. I wouldn't be surprised if he has a Top 10 list of his all-time favorite Top 10 lists.

Bull Durham
"Bull Durham" tops a lot of critics' lists as the best sports movie.
Running off his list of favorite movies once, he listed "Casablanca" -- a solid, safe, wimpy pick that's also on my list. I'm sure he had "Annie Hall" mixed in with a couple of slightly obscure films, because he likes to pretend he's pretentious. "Swingers" and "Rushmore" might have debuted in his Top 10, perhaps briefly, perhaps not. And somewhere in there was "Bull Durham."

Hold the phone! Did we just start on a new list? Are we suddenly talking about the Top 10 most overrated, boring, clichéd movies that are completely devoid of any likeable characters? Because that's the only list that "Bull Durham" belongs on.

Yet, I know Christian's not alone in his totally erroneous opinion. In fact, I was quite sure that when Page 2 counted all the votes and listed the Top 20 Sports Movies of All-Time that "Bull Crap!" would be high on the list -- and, in fact, lo and behold, it ranks No. 1.

I feared that would be the case, because I've heard so many people speak so highly of it. Yuck! I want my three hours back. I want the 90 minutes I wasted the first time I saw the movie, and the 90 more minutes I wasted giving it another chance.

Granted, I rented the movie fully prepared to write about how bad it was. So I can't say I went into it with the world's most open mind. But there I was, notebook in hand, ready to write down any thought -- positive or negative -- that came into my head while I watched it for a second time. I was even considering the possibility of writing a column in which I would admit how bad I originally thought "Bull Durham" was, but then after a second viewing, I discovered how wrong I had been all these years.

And it turns out I was wrong. The movie's not as bad as I thought. It's much worse! It's absolutely the worst movie I've ever seen -- twice! And the only reason it's not the worst movie I've ever seen is because I saw "Pee Wee Herman's Big Top Adventure, " "The Animal" and "The Waterboy"!

The mound conference is one of the only truly funny moments in "Bull Durham."
In my little reporter's notebook, I created a special column with the heading: "Things That Made Me Laugh." By the end of the movie, there were three things written there:

  1. I liked when the manager threw the bats into the shower, and screamed at his players for "lollygagging" to batting practice, and lollygagging when they come on and off the field, etc. "Do you know what that makes you," he asks. "A bunch of lollygaggers!"

  2. I also laughed when Crash told the opposing hitter that a fastball was coming.

  3. I laughed at Robert Wuhl's tips on wedding gifts during the conference on the mound.

I think I was being pretty generous with the "lollygag" speech, so there might have only been two funny lines in the whole movie. And since Crash later told a different opposing batter that a curveball was coming, the movie basically ruined the first line by using the same gag twice. So, that leave's "Candlesticks always make a nice gift" as the movie's only funny remark. Now, consider those are the six words on which Robert Wuhl built his career. That scene might have directly caused the creation of "ARLI$$." One more reason to hate the movie.

Keep in mind, I found this movie in the "comedy" section of my local video store. It's supposed to be funny! It's not. That makes it a bad movie right there. But it's more than just a bad movie. It's insulting.

Everything is so constructed. Take the bar scene for example. Annie asks Crash to dance. He says no. Nuke asks her to dance, so now Crash wants to dance. (Oooh, the plot thickens!) Nuke is immediately ready to fight. They go outside where Crash announces that he doesn't believe in fighting, and Nuke announces that he won't throw the first punch. So Crash magically produces the baseball he keeps on the inside of his special edition Beaver Cleaver windbreaker (good thing it wasn't a football movie, he would have needed a bigger jacket). Anybody else wondering why Crash brought a ball with him to the bar that night? How convenient! Then, if you notice, Nuke throws the ball from about 15 feet away! 15 feet! Not 60 feet, 6 inches. 15 feet. With the follow through, we're down to about the size of an office cubicle, and Crash doesn't even blink as the professional pitcher with a million-dollar arm fires the ball at him. C'mon! You can call me stupid, but don't charge me $3.89 with the pressure of a late fee hanging over my head, and then call me stupid.

Anyway, Crash punches Nuke hard enough in the nose to knock him down, but there's no blood, no swelling, no ice, no hard feelings, and it's time to go home with the town slut. Nothing brings two men closer than a ménage a trois!

Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon
Crash Davis initially says he's not interested in Annie Savoy, and we never learn why he changes his mind.
Back at Annie's house, it's time to squirm uneasily in your seat as Kevin Costner delivers his "I believe" speech! I'm supposed to believe that this guy just spontaneously breaks into some eloquent monologue that is equal parts romantic, political, sensitive and vulgar! Remember it starts off: "I believe in the soul, the c-word (male private part), the p-word (female private part)." Who else has male genitalia No. 2 on their list of "things they believe in"? A lot of us might put peace, freedom, God, children and country slightly ahead of words that rhyme with "clock" and "wussy."

Crash also believes "in the the small of woman's back, the hanging curveball, high fiber, good scotch" -- and then my absolute favorite -- "that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-induldgent, overrated crap" (kind of like this movie).

Costner continues: "I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening presents on Christmas morning instead of Christmas Eve. And I believe in long, slow, deep, wet kisses that last three days." (Not exactly Martin Luther King's "I have a dream," but it sure was powerful stuff.)

And with that, Susan Sarandon falls in love with him. She's not bothered by the fact that Costner's delivery makes the speech sound like a contrived, orchestrated, verbose and rehearsed pickup line. But I am. I didn't love him then, but at least I liked him a few moments later when he walks out of the house, and responds to Susan Sarandon's plea to come back by saying: "I'm not interested in a woman who's interested in that boy" (referring to Tim Robbins who was there hoping to be involved in a threesome with a woman and a man he just met).

It's the only line in the whole movie that suggests any kind of virtue or integrity. Of course, it turns out to be a lie. He ends up with a huge crush on her, and we never really know why.

What we do know about Annie Savoy is that she sleeps with a new guy every year. And keep in mind, this is Class A ball where most of the players would be about 18 years old. Of course, since she has scruples, she won't sleep with anyone who doesn't hit at least .250, "unless he's a good glove man up the middle." That would probably include most proctologists.

Annie's closest friend, and perhaps her only friend, is Milly the slut in training who ends up marrying the religious guy. Annie is a self-aggrandizing phony who romanticizes that she's more than just an indiscriminate harlot, because she "believes in the church of baseball" which somehow gives her a higher purpose. She says: "My job is to give him life wisdom and to help him get on to the major leagues." In her world, if you're scoring at home, you're scoring at the ballpark. Talk about self-important bologna!

One of my biggest problems with "Bull Durham" is its reputation for being a realistic view of life in the minor leagues. Oooh, look at me. I use words like deuce, and hammer and dinger. I refer to the majors as "The Show." I'm a baseball insider! Crash goes up to the plate, calls the pitcher "Meat," and we get to hear his thoughts like: "You're not gonna get that cheese by me." That's what I say about this movie. They're not gonna get all that cheese by me.

I happened to pay attention when Nuke's record fell to 1-6. Then the Bulls went on a winning streak, and Nuke won a few games. He never threw a shutout, or even completely fixed his control problems, but he probably got his record up to about 5-6. Remember, this is Class A ball. And with a 5-6 record, Nuke gets the call to bypass AA and AAA. He's going straight to "The Show"! That's the kind of stupidity you can let slide in a great movie. But in a bad movie, it's the kind of stupidity that's just plain stupid.

And if I haven't convinced you yet, let me point out that we see Tim Robbins bare naked bottom twice. That's exactly two more times than we see Susan Sarandon's. It's also two more times than I wanted to see it. And thanks to my diligent efforts for Page 2, I've seen it four times. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to spit up a little bit.

Bob Halloran is an anchorman for ESPNEWS.