The Slugger's Wife (1985) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for sexuality and language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Michael O'Keefe, Rebecca De Mornay, Randy Quaid, Martin Ritt, Cleavant Derricks, Lisa Langlois, Lynn Whitfield, Al Hrabosky (cameo), Mark Fidrych (cameo), Ted Turner (cameo)
Director: Hal Ashby
Screenplay: Neil Simon
It could have been, and should have been, a much better film than it actually is. Marred by lots of problems in production behind the scenes, The Slugger's Wife is a case of "too many cooks" spoiling the broth, as veteran director Hal Ashby (Being there, Coming Home) had trouble working with the script by famed playwright Neil Simon (The Lonely Guy, The Odd Couple) to the detriment of the overall story. Simon was not one that liked anyone tampering with his scripts, and Ashby was an actor's director, allowing his thespians much leeway to alter dialogue in the way they see fit to make it work for them. Ashby was canned during the post-production, leaving the editing chores to the producers, who did everything they could to try to regain Simon's original vision, but to little avail. Word got out to the critics, who, like a shark sensing blood in the water, proceeded to ravage the final product with merciless fervor.
Michael O'Keefe (Caddyshack, The Glass House) stars as Altlanta Braves outfielder Darryl Palmer, an average player that finds his game elevated to superstar status now that he finds himself in love with a sexy nightclub singer named Debby (De Mornay, Runaway Train). the romance is awkward, but the two eventually get married, and Palmer looks like he will have a career year, on pace to break Roger Maris' record for most home runs in a season. Palmer is exhilarated by the highs, both on and off the field, but all of the attention he requires from Debby is hurting her fledgling singing career, so she leaves him to see if she can make it on her own. Despondent, Palmer finds himself striking out at the plate, as well as with Debby, and his life goes into a tailspin that he feels only she can bring him out of.
All things considered, The Slugger's Wife isn't a bad film in story, but it doesn't really gain much momentum to be called good either. Perhaps the biggest problem comes from the casting of the two leads, O'Keefe and De Mornay. Both have proven to be competent actors when given roles that play to their strengths, but their as oddball sentimentalists stuck in a hot-cold relationship, their limitations are exceeded far too many times, and it shows glaringly. It doesn't help that Ashby allowed De Mornay to do her own singing in the film because, quite frankly, she can't. This makes her excursion to find her own way to stardom as a singer seem all the more selfish, as it is obvious Debby has only marginal talent, and she doesn't do much other than cover songs (and quite poorly at that).
One can see that underneath the uneven execution, an interesting story is there, and just enough of it remains to make The Slugger's Wife arresting and intelligent from time to time. However, even this can be frustrating because such smart and witty dialogue sounds strange coming out of characters that prove to be such simpletons, like listening to Forrest Gump expound on Einstein's theories. Neither De Mornay nor O'Keefe have sufficient charisma to make their flawed characters remotely appealing, and when things go awry in their marriage it comes as no surprise, since there weren't many sparks to begin with.
The Slugger's Wife remains a very flawed film, but fans of baseball flicks, music of the mid-80s, and of the two leads may find just enough to hold their attention to make it worthwhile. In baseball statistics, the movie is an oft-slumping .250 hitter with occasional pop at the plate.
©2005 Vince Leo