A Costner hit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 January, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 January, 1994, 12:00am

KEVIN Costner has made a hatful of baseball movies, of which Field of Dreams was the latest and Chasing Dreams the earliest. Chasing Dreams sneaked on to daytime television in Hong Kong a few months back as quietly as an embarrassed mouse in slippers. Costner, unknown when it was made in 1981, was in and out of it in five minutes - much to his relief no doubt - and what he left behind amounted to very little: a low-budget tear-jerker about a teenager who has to work on the farm, look after his dying young brother and sneak in baseball practice.

Bull Durham (World, 9.32pm) is the pick of Costner's baseball portfolio. It's full of obligatory back-slapping and gum-chewing, but is still a great deal more fun than the affected Field of Dreams, without ever turning into a baseball-player-meets-raunchy-groupie pubescent drama, which it could so easily have done.

It does not because the script is a cut above the usual and because the performances, particularly from Susan Sarandon as the sassy groupie, are memorable. Even Costner, not known for his ability to run the gamut of emotions (if in doubt, watch The Bodyguard) squeezes some depth from his character, a veteran of the game put in charge of an ill-disciplined North Carolina minor league team. In particular, his job is to get the best from a talented but lazy pitcher, Tim Robbins, the man who went on to achieve a certain greatness for his roles in two of the most satirical of satires, The Player and Bob Roberts.

Bull Durham does have its dreary patches, but persevere if you begin to waver - there is some spectacular sex at the end.

MICHAEL Douglas has never appeared in a baseball movie, but he did appear in the unpleasant The Star Chamber (Pearl, 9.30pm), in which a bunch of judges get together in a secret society to retry defendants who have been unjustly freed and then have them executed by hired assassins.

It's all a bit hard to swallow and rather nasty in places, what one critic referred to as a ''Michael Winner with a conscience''.

PEARL should really have taken on Bull Durham with sex, lies & videotape (Pearl, 12.05am), not because it has the word sex in the title, although that is usually reason enough, but because it is better and newer than The Star Chamber. From a ratings point of view its disadvantage is that it has no astoundingly big names in it, although Andie MacDowell (Green Card) is hardly a complete unknown and neither is James Spader.

But Michael Douglas is a superstar, so those of you who want to watch sex, lies and videotape, which took top prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, will have to use either your video recorder or caffeine.

THE best I can offer for House of Death (World, 1.05am) is an intriguing extract from the synopsis. Read this and then make your own decision: Abused as a child by his mother, a prostitute, he screams as he swings the machete in the air, as he cries: ''Just . . . like Mama. Nothing good left. You . . . you want to play with my body too. Just like . . . just like Mama. Bad. Bad. KILL. MAMA. BAD.BAD.'' And so on.

IF House of Death sounds like too much of an ordeal, try Man's Heritage (Pearl 8.00pm) and Wildlife Journeys (Pearl 9.00pm), both of which have far better scripts.

Man's Heritage is a fine example of how documentary makers can turn the most mundane subjects into intriguing television. It looks at Jackdaws, birds that have a reputation as thieves and vermin.

Wildlife Journeys studies animal mobility, from the sea slug to the ''flying'' manta ray and the jet-propelled jellyfish.