Picks and Pans Review: The Slugger's Wife

updated 04/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EST

Neil Simon has done something courageous and, as it turns out, foolhardy with this film about a two-career marriage between an Atlanta Braves outfielder, Michael O'Keefe, and his rock singer wife, Rebecca De Mornay: He has written a script that doesn't sound like Neil Simon. Perhaps he is responding to past criticism that even his most artful stage comedies—The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, Chapter Two—sound artificial when transferred to the screen. But that lighthearted literate artifice, exemplified in the screen pairing of, say, Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl is what makes Simon an original. In The Slugger's Wife Simon has left his personality at home, leaving O'Keefe and De Mornay to play what might be called "the flat couple." The plot is determinedly old hat, with O'Keefe unable to hit homers unless the little woman is in the stands. All the modern trappings (high-tech discos, rock songs, a not-so-happy ending) can't disguise the fact that these are 1950s characters trapped in a 1980s time warp. Little wonder then that director-turned-actor Martin (Norma Rae, Hud) Ritt steals the picture as the veteran Braves manager, a throwback who gets Simon's only good lines. "You know what makes really good champagne?" he snarls after a bad day. "Winning." Let the record book show that O'Keefe and De Mornay bear the burden of the plot and of Hal (Coming Home) Ashby's sluggish direction with game good humor. O'Keefe, Robert Duvall's son in The Great Santini, does not make a very convincing slugger; with that swing he couldn't hit his grandmother if she walked across the plate. But he conveys a real sense of love and loss. De Mornay—an actress with looks, smarts and a stunning future—makes that dismay understandable. Terrific as the tart with the heart of a cash register in Risky Business, De Mornay can make a cliché sound freshly minted. It's a gift that comes in handy in The Slugger's Wife. (PG-13)

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