Written and directed by Ron Shelton.

Starring Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Don Johnson and Cheech Marin.

This film is on the Best of 1996 list.

"Tin Cup"

Opened: August 16, 1996 | Rated: R

At times "Tin Cup" feels like "Bull Durham" with smaller balls.

Writer-director Ron Shelton was the driving force behind both films and since he was making a sports-centered movie that also targets a female audience, he was bound to fall back on tried and true now and again.

Like it's predecessor, "Tin Cup" uses the sports, in this case golf, as a metaphor for the game of romance. And although this is a more daffy movie, it affords Kevin Costner his best role since that 1988 baseball romance and offers surprisingly fleshed out characters for a comedy.

But, golf? Isn't that a little, um, dull?

This may be difficult to believe given the subject matter, but "Tin Cup" is swiftly paced. Even with almost half its 130 minutes taking place on the greens, there isn't a dull moment.

The story is driven by a terrifically balanced love triangle. Kevin Costner (who can be dynamic in the right part -- and this is) plays Roy McAvoy, the best stuck-in-West-Texas golfer to never turn pro. Don Johnson is David Simms, his arch rival from college and a leader on the pro tour, who comes back to town for a charity tourney and insults Roy by asking him to caddie.

Their animosity comes to a head over Molly Griswold (Rene Russo), Simms psychologist girlfriend, who visits Roy for a golf lesson and inspires him to break out of his golf-pro-on-the-prairie existence to pursue her and to challenge Simms in the U.S. Open.

"Tin Cup" has the wit, atmosphere and electricity of a 1930s screwball comedy, but with stressed out, caustic, '90s players and modern sexual sensibilities.

The comfortable tension between Russo and Costner as she half-heartedly rebuffs his come-ons has the same winsome quality that draws you to cute romance movies you're ashamed to admit you like.

Roy visits her office for a little head-shrinking to help him control a self-destructive streak, then on her advise about honesty, declares his love. The actors' timing -- his hesitation and her surprise -- is impeccable.

But "Tin Cup" canvasses more than just metaphorical courting and Y-chromosome rivalry. Roy's whole life has been short on follow-through and he's so bitter about it that he turns everything into a contest. Molly, who has never felt very settled, tries to control herself for once and do the sensible thing -- stay with Simms.

This foray into depth of character without sacrificing the comedy and romance gives "Tin Cup" an extraordinary appeal.

Even the heavier scenes have some kind of comedic kick in the pants. In one, cash-strapped Roy bets a local well-to-do that he can win 18 holes using a rake, a shovel, a hoe and a Louisville Slugger in the place of clubs.

The movie is cleverly edited to add spunk to scenes at the U.S. Open, which are also accompanied by a trumpeting soundtrack that plays the part of the crowd on the course, rising feverishly whenever Roy tees off.

After a while, the music gets to be a bit much -- like in "Rocky" when we got an orchestra in full crescendo when all Rocky did was run up a flight of steps -- but it delivers the rush the audience wants and helps build to a tantalizing climax.

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