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The Games Men Play

Shelton and Costner team up again for more sporting success

Ron Shelton, directing from a screenplay he co-wrote with John Norville, sticks fairly close to the formula that proved so potent in Bull Durham. Once again, we have a has-been on the verge of being a never-will-be, an intelligent and sexy grown-up woman, a flashy rival who makes all the right moves and a romantic triangle that brings out both the best and the worst in everyone involved. A certain degree of self-awareness is achieved, and two initially wary mavericks recognize each other as soul mates.

Tin Cup lacks the edge of melancholy that Shelton brought to the second half of Bull Durham, which ends with two players finally acknowledging the limitations of their games, but he does something equally risky. In the final scenes of Tin Cup, he undercuts his happy ending by suggesting that, on a very basic level, Roy will never change -- and that that might not be such a good thing.

As Roy, Costner is more than simply ingratiating and amusing, he's positively fearless. When the dark side of the character must bubble up to the surface, in a scene that blurs the distinction between stubbornness and psychosis, Costner remains true to his character's contradictions without worrying whether he will appear less lovable.

Another indication of Costner's confidence in himself: he usually appears opposite leading ladies who are roughly his own age. As Molly, a brainy and beautiful woman who trained in psychotherapy only after she went bust in the real-estate game, Russo strikes the perfect balance of skittishness and self-assurance. (During moments of stress, she still wonders whether she was better off selling condos in Corpus Christi.) Right from the start, Russo and Costner generate a slow-simmering heat, trading barbed quips with a no-sweat ease that adds sparkle to the brightly witty dialogue. "I'm smitten with you," Roy announces at one point. The line is typical of Shelton -- lightly stylized speech grounded in earthy, heartfelt emotion -- and in this context, it's altogether appropriate. After all, what guy in his right mind wouldn't be smitten with the woman Russo plays?

Don Johnson is so well-cast as David Simms that one is tempted to describe his performance as self-parody. (It wouldn't be the first time Johnson has mocked his own tabloid image -- consider his performance as a preening egomaniac in Guilty as Sin.) Look a bit closer at the character, however, and you can see that, beneath the satire, there's a sharply drawn and fully developed portrait of a glad-handing golden boy who has refined shallowness to the level of an art form. Likewise, Cheech Marin is richly comical in what at first appears to be just a comic-relief character. As the movie progresses, Romeo reveals more depth and greater insight. It's to Marin's credit that he can handle every challenge the role offers.

Tin Cup is smart, sexy and funny in all the right measures, and should please anyone in the market for a grown-up romantic comedy. Better still, you don't have to know a double bogey from a double play to make sense of the sequences that involve golf. All you have to do is sit back and let these masters do their finest work.

Tin Cup.
Directed by Ron Shelton. With Kevin Costner, Don Johnson and Rene Russo. Rated R. 130 minutes.

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