A cliché ending can grind a lot of luster off a well-executed movie. But can an unexpectedly great ending redeem an otherwise crappy film? Tin Cup compels us to ponder this question.
If there were a career Oscar for "Best Washed Up Jock Womanizer," Kevin Costner would win going away. And here he is in that role he plays so well, cast as an underachieving West Texas driving-range proprietor who has stubbornly squandered several opportunities to make the pro golf tour by going for broke when safe shots are called for. Add Rene Russo and the cast of Nash Bridges (Cheech Marin and the criminally underemployed Don Johnson), and Tin Cup should have gone down as smooth as a foamy mug of Schlitz. It doesn't, thanks to an unforgivably trite script, some half-assed Lone Star drawls and a cornball soundtrack.
But then there's the ending, which, against all odds, is fantastic. Here's the background: Costner has hit a three-wood into the drink in front of the eighteenth green in three consecutive rounds of the Big Tournament. If he lays up instead of attempting to do the impossible in the final round, he can still win with an up-and-down birdie. But with an eagle standing between him and the U.S. Open scoring record, Costner goes for broke. Common sense would dictate that Tin Cup ends one of two obvious ways: Utter elation or sad-sack failure. Instead, this climax -- and Phyllis ain't no spoiler -- finds a seemingly unplayable lie on the cart path of emotional complexity.