Tin Cup

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Comedy;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language and brief nudity.
Stars Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson.

A kind of shaggy dog or shaggy bogey or shaggy something golf backdropped romantic comedy directed and co-written by Ron Shelton, 1996’s Tin Cup was about as popular at the box office as the filmmaker’s breakthrough Bull Durham, yet it isn’t talked about as much these days — perhaps due to Durham’s extraordinarily sustained shelf life as a movie that really caught on in the home market. It’s long and a little lumpy, but it’s my favorite golf film out of a limited pool, despite my decades of boundless affection for Martin & Lewis in The Caddy, which is the picture from which I caught the movie bug in 1953.

For one thing, it has one of the greatest premises for a romantic comedy that I’ve ever seen, as a practitioner of the No. 1 head game in sports (Kevin Costner) falls for a clinical psychologist (Rene Russo). I see that one of those cretins you sometimes see posting on IMDb.com said he didn’t like the picture because Russo didn’t act anything like real people in the profession do, but one of the key points here is that the latter has knocked around in sales and other professions before getting her certification and is hardly to the profession born. What’s more, if she weren’t in her own way as flakey as Costner, their relationship could never get past the opening tee shot, which it barely does, anyway.

The setting is a West Texas driving rage that Costner operates and lives in sub-meagerly. I won’t say it’s out in the middle of nowhere, but you somehow know it isn’t a good sign when the logo on his establishment’s sign is an armadillo. Once a promising college golfer at the University of Houston, Costner has gone to professional seed over his habit of playing recklessly and his congenital refusal to follow the advice even of his caddy and all but live-in friend (Cheech Marin, in the best screen role he’s ever had aside from maybe parts in the earliest Cheech & Chong vehicles). Meanwhile, Costner’s chief college rival (a never-better Don Johnson) has become a name pro on the circuit. Those two are not dissimilar physical types, but I can’t tell if Shelton is trying to construct an alter ego thing or not.

Russo, who has a history of “following boyfriends” to wherever they are geographically, shows up at the range for golf lessons — and though this isn’t divulged right away, her current squeeze is a golfer who happens to be … well, guess. She can barely hit the ball when teeing off, so Costner has a lot of work to do, including polishing his faltering romantic patter. His familiar formulas aren’t working, partly because Russo sees right through him. She’s also too slow in picking up on the fact, which Costner fully knows from their long history, that super-slick Johnson is about as sincere as, say, Jim Bakker.

This is all an entertaining setup for what happens when Costner elects to attempt entry to the U.S. Open, which literally is “open” to any golfer who can qualify for entry — which, among other things, means not playing like a highly talented madman. This would encompass not intentionally snapping clubs like wishbones, using a 7-iron when it’s an eccentric choice for the shot and insulting your longtime caddy to the point where he walks off the course. Still, aside from the caddy part, Costner makes it work for him up to a point, though his behavior keeps adding strokes to a score and blowing what ought to be a cushion after he’s hit a hot streak.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The wide open settings of the movie’s second half are a photogenic contrast to the first, which spends a lot of time in and around the mold culture where Costner lives, works and has even had surprising success with women in the past, though none of them with Russo’s at least relative polish. There are at least a couple standout set pieces, the first being an incredible bet that Costner sets up in a bar on the tour, which involves a long drive through a narrow doorway and over a body of water to attempt an odds-defying feat.

The other one is simply terrific — a scene I’ve never forgotten and one I was highly anxious to see again. It involves Costner’s death-wish attempt to reach the green over (again) a body of water, and it isn’t pretty, yet ultimately, it’s jammed with grandeur — the kind sports fans will talk about for decades when the actual winner of the tournament will be a fuzzy memory except for those who qualify as the hard core.

Follow us on Instagram!

All four leads really deliver in form-fitting roles, and though he wasn’t awarded top spot, Costner was one of three more to win a citation as best actor for 1996 from the New York Film Critics circle. He apparently had to be coached heavily to look like a competitive golfer, but he is such a good athlete in general (and a heavily skilled baseball player) that to my eye, at least, he looks convincing.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Tin Cup’ and ‘The General Died at Dawn’

Shout Select Releasing ‘Born in East L.A.’ Collector’s Edition March 19

Shout! Factory will release Born in East L.A. as a collector’s edition Blu-ray with new bonus material March 19 through its Shout Select imprint.

Written by, directed by and starring Cheech Marin, the 1987 comedy follows the plight of an American of Hispanic descent who schemes to get back into the United States after he is accidentally deported to Mexico without money or ID.

The Blu-ray will include a new commentary from Marin; new interviews with Marin, actress Kamala Lopez and actor Paul Rodriguez; a standard-definition extended television cut of the movie; a photo gallery; production notes; and the film’s theatrical trailer.

Subscribe HERE to our FREE daily newsletter!

Up in Smoke

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Comedy;
$12.99 DVD, $16.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Stacy Keach, Tom Skerritt.

I’m running late on this vibrant-colored commemorative 40th anniversary paean to cannabis capers — and given the specifics of one gag that opens it, plus the disoriented and judgmentally addled states of its two protagonists, detractors could just as well call it a pee-on. But given that, for all its raggedness, Cheech & Chong’s screen debut has aged so much better than Jeff Sessions, attention must be paid — which is the same advice one might give to protagonists Pedro and “The Man” when they’re behind the wheels of motorized vehicles.

Up in Smoke was directed by record producer Lou Adler, and no one will mistake his mis-en-scene for the seamless elegance of, say, Josef von Sternberg’s in Criterion’s imminent Sternberg-Dietrich box set. Cheech & Chong, however, came from improv and knew how to play to an audience, and their album cuts were essentially sustained routines (at times, more sustained than the humor itself) with unexpectedly impressive sound effects. I became a fan listening them send up “Sister Mary Elephant” (on the Big Bambu LP) — where an understandably frazzled nun’s attempts to impose order with her ear-shattering “Shut Up!!!! screams on her suddenly silenced classroom were interrupted by a pupil aside. Even though these were the days of two stereo speakers and nothing else. the response seemed to come from about 20 feet in back to me and off to the side: “I gotta go to the can, man.”

Vinyl and concert popularity notwithstanding, the picture’s box office success came after everyone’s conventional wisdom (mine included) speculated that Paramount probably had another The Last of the Secret Agents? (which, in 1966, deservedly became the last of the Allen & Rossi comedies) on its hands. Matter of fact, I seem to recall that Steven Bach opens his great account of how Heaven’s Gate sank United Artists — Final Cut — with a lot of lot of old white-guy studio executives sitting in a studio screening room trying to figure out what Paramount’s genies were smoking inside their bongs.

Cheech is Mexican-American Cheech Marin, who — and I don’t say this lightly — is one of the greatest mimics ever. Tommy Chong (sometimes billed as Thomas, though it hardly fits) is a mix of Scots-Irish-Chinese raised in Canada. In later years, he was so persecuted by the U.S. government on a minor drug charge that a documentary was made about it (I have a copy) — but in terms of the act, he’s mostly a passive straight man to Marin despite displaying a pleasing personality on this set’s bonus interviews. Albeit one that probably couldn’t be mined because it would have thrown off the act’s dynamics.

Basically, the movie is about the twosome’s sole motivating force in life: getting stoned, with occasional breaks for band rehearsals and sex with buxom hitchhikers. Though it peters out some at the end — an affliction it shares with some of the team’s other and progressively inferior screen comedies — this hook sustains itself better than expected for much of its length. Much of this is due to casting more inspired than one might assume for a low-budget production that took six or seven years to get green-lit.

Right off the bat, there’s Strother Martin and Edie Adams (fading trophy wife) as Chong’s parents. We also get Tom Skerritt as a cousin and pot source who thinks he’s still back in Vietnam; and most of all, Stacy Keach as a narc who’s only a little less inept than his subordinates and whose K-9 police dog ends up on his back with all fours sticking up after picking or ingesting fumes from an entire van made of grass. Two of the bonus deleted scenes feature Harry Dean Stanton as a prison guard who sells pills at rip-off prices on the side, though he was edited out of the final release print. (Best of the excised clips is one where C&C try to smoke a joint that is half-made with Hamburger Helper in an attempt to cure the munchies problem in one fell toke).

At its best, this is funnier than most of the Abbott & Costello movies I’ve seen, in part because I’ve never been crazy about comics who lack a sexual dimension (and before you ask, W.C. Fields definitely had one). Everyone was talking at the time (well, I guess Alistair Cooke wasn’t) about the aforementioned van of pot and how it would interact with the exhaust fumes. And also the scene where the kind of woman who would smoke Hamburger Helper accidentally snorts Ajax and gets a still-funny rush that must have had the boys in the Colgate-Palmolive boardroom being if it was too late to change the ad campaign.

This was a rich brief period for distributor Paramount, the kind they haven’t seen in a while. There was the box office grosses of the godawful Grease to presumably off-set the commercial underperformance of Days of Heaven; Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait, which scored with both critics and public; and then the surprise success of this poster child for stoner cinema to prove that not everyone was into Star Wars and the lesser galaxy rides it spawned.

As a footnote, I did my part to sustain the C&C spirit (coincidentally, as it turned out) by programming Maryjane with Fabian in the AFI Theater around the same time — a film series about high school and college, as opposed to a Fabian retrospective. I simply felt that the Kennedy Center could use some loosening up, and I didn’t have a key to the supply cabinet where they kept the Ajax.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Up in Smoke’ and ‘The Woman in the Window’