Friday, July 22, 2011

BASEketball - 1998

"BASEketball" - 1998
Dir. by David Zucker - 1 hr. 43 min.

Official Trailer

Now that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are established, respected satirists, it's interesting to go back and take a look at one of their early, non-South Park works.  "South Park" built a quick buzz, and this is one of the few external attempts to cash in on that buzz.  Actually, that makes it sound like a bad thing, which it isn't.  They were very hot for a period of time, and a lot of people wanted to capitalize on that.  For the most part, Parker and Stone stuck to "South Park," but this is the one movie they made that they didn't have complete responsibility for.

"BASEketball" is actually the last live-action film Parker and Stone worked on after "South Park" began airing ("Orgazmo" was filmed before they started working on the TV show) to date.  "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut" was animated and "Team America" was a puppet movie.  David Zucker (of "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun" fame) co-wrote and directed this film, which is the only time Parker and Stone haven't assumed those duties, as well.  So "BASEketball" is kind of an odd duck in their careers.

The movie itself is a satire of professional sports (starting with a dead-on montage sequence explaining how sports found themselves in such a lowly state).  Cooper (Parker) and Remer (Stone) are twenty-something layabouts who end up inventing the sport of baseketball at a party in a futile attempt to impress some former classmates.  The sport takes off, going from driveway pastime to nationally televised, thanks to millionaire Ted Denslow (Ernest Borgnine).  Between the machinations of the evil owner of the Dallas Felons and the inevitable toll getting rich quickly takes on Coop and Remer, things threaten to fall apart.

Having seen a number of Zucker films, I find it hard to believe that Parker and Stone didn't at least take a crack at re-writing the script.  I've read a version of the script that doesn't give them credit (and they're not credited with writing at all), and while the structure and general idea are present, not much of the dialogue in the finished film is there at all.  And what's in the movie is much closer to what Parker and Stone do than what Zucker generally does.  Another interesting bit - this was the first film that Zucker had directed in seven years, and he wouldn't direct another one for five more years (a TV movie notwithstanding).  So I guess what I'm getting at is that Parker and Stone were super-hot, and Zucker wasn't at this point in time, and it feels like the dialogue in particular is really close to what Parker and Stone generally do, so it feels like they're more responsible for this movie than they took credit for.

Between the two comedy camps, what's here works fairly well.  Parker and Stone offer a willingness to cross the lines of propriety, and Zucker brings a gleeful ping-ponging across pop culture touchstones. Maybe the best example of how that worked was the foul-mouthed "Unsolved Mysteries" segment with Robert Stack, which came after Coop had "disappeared" for a couple of days.  It's a great gag, plus there's the joy of hearing Stack suggest that Coop might be "hanging in his closet from his fucking neck" without a hint of insincerity.  There's a ton of great gags along the way in the same vein - Bob Costas and Al Michaels doing off-color and oblivious commentary, Reggie Jackson's cameo towards the end, the Roadkill: Caught on Tape recurring gag (a take-off on "When Animals Attack").  The Psyche-Outs are pretty funny along the way as well, particularly Parker's.

So that leaves the nagging questions of what doesn't work, and why didn't this movie do squat at the box-office?  One of the big problems with the movie lies within the love story.  First off, Yasmine Bleeth isn't generally regarded as one of the finest actresses of her generation (nor is the actress in the other prominent female role, Jenny McCarthy).  The main function of the love story (particularly in a "save the house" film") is to shine a light on what might be an overlooked potential in the underachieving hero.  In other words, it serves towards a likability factor, and gives a solid reason for an audience to root for the hero to achieve whatever it is that he needs to achieve.  When the love story falls flat (as it does here, for a couple of reasons I'll get to in a second), the audience doesn't necessarily still root for the hero.

In this case, and ignoring Bleeth's acting skills (she got famous for wearing a swimsuit on "Baywatch," and she's rather modestly dressed throughout this film), there's a fundamental problem with the set-up for the character.  Jenna Reed (her character) runs a dying wish foundation, which means that she's nearly always in the company of half a dozen sick children.  It drains any sexuality out of her character (it's like looking at the Octomom with brood), and there's not much chemistry between her and Parker anyhow (and how you have a movie that's clearly going to get an R-rating, and then take an actress who's famous for her curves and hide them as fastidiously as possible is beyond me.  Forget it, Clay, it was the 90's).  It's like a placeholder love story - the only way that it makes any sense is that she's practically the Smurfette here.  It's Bleeth or nothing in the context of the film, but it just flat out doesn't work.  And since that doesn't work (and since the "save the house" portion of the story is introduced way too late, there are a lot of things that are funny but don't have anything driving them.  The relationship between Parker and Stone is far more interesting (and even culminates in a full-on dude-on-dude kiss), and is the unspoken focus of the story, but Jenna's inclusion muddies things (if her character doesn't actually accomplish the purpose it needs to, why have her in the story at all?).

"BASEketball" is funny, light, totally watchable.  It is not a particularly pointed satire (it's a lightweight topic, although it definitely nails some things on the head), it's not as awesome as "SP:BLU" or "Team America," nor even any of your favorite two dozen or so episodes of "South Park."  If you're a Parker/Stone fan, you probably should check this out, if only for the brief glimpses of Parker doing Cartman and Mr. Garrison voices over the course of the film.  But also understand, they didn't take any credit for this film beyond appearing in it, either.

3 / 5 - NF Streaming

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