The sports parody movie has taken a beating in recent years. Actually, most parodies have, being locked into themselves being weak parodies of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker classic film Airplane! Which tells you something about that film, which owes no small part of its success to being different from anything else at the time.
Dying, Ed Wynn noted, is easy. Comedy on the other hand is hard, so not-negative reviews for Intramural (retitled as Balls Out by some clever PR wag, no doubt) tempted The Boy in to the only showings for this film, which played for one week, last showing every night.
As far as I know, it only played in that theater for that week. Anywhere. In the world. (You can get it on Amazon, at least.)
It was made and starred people I’ve never heard of, though a few of them have been around for a while, and some were or are “Saturday Night Live” regulars. (I can’t imagine that carries much cachet these days but what do I know?)
The ominousness continues as the film opens with the Orion logo. I’ve been seeing that logo more and more lately, so I can only assume the once great/once bankrupt company…well, had its logo purchased by some distribution company.
The premise is that, during the final game of a freshman Intramural flag football league, our heroes, the Panthers succeed in a last minute play to win the game—at the cost of one of their players being paralyzed from the penis down. Yes. Right from there.
It’s four years later after the credits roll and down-on-his luck fifth-year senior Caleb wants to reassemble the Panthers (who haven’t spoken since that game, apparently) for a last chance at glory before going on to his horrible, horrible life of wealth with his rich, monstrous girlfriend and her overbearing dad.
Yeah, look, the more I explain the plot, the dumber it’s going to sound. ‘cause it is dumb.
But look, there were a lot of ways to go, here. They could’ve played it mostly straight with some wacky situations, somewhere past Dodgeball land into, say, The Replacements or Major League, or they could’ve gone for full-on Airplane! style absurd. The former probably would’ve been boring, and the latter would’ve been an atrocity, if modern attempts are any guide.
So, where they sit is in this realm of silliness that has enough story structure to hang on to—the hero meets the girl of his dreams and the villain uses his fiancee to create the necessary 2nd act nadir—and never goes into the surreal. At one point, their scrappy coach tells them (in the words of FDR) “Anyone can piss on the floor. It takes a real man to shit on the ceiling. And that’s NOT a metaphor!”
So, at one point, they actually try it. It’s not a high water mark for the film, but it sort of makes sense in the scheme of things.
There is some cleverness here. Scrappy coach—the wheelchair bound victim of the first game injury—explains everything in terms of sports movies early on, and there’s a montage of an entire movie with all the characters going through those steps. At that point, I thought, well, crap, now we’ve seen the whole movie—except that instead the narrative uses an entirely different set of sports movie clichés.
I dunno. It won us over. It just kept throwing joke after joke, without reaction takes (which are murder when a joke fails), and without apology. “Just keep up with us,” it seems to say, “and we’ll get to something you like.” It’s so low-budget and earnest, you end up kind of rooting for it like an underdog sports team.
So, maybe only half the jokes land. There are a lot of jokes. The characterization is cartoonish, but you still kind of care about the characters.
There were only two guys in the theater beside us, a couple of dude-bros (in the parlance of our time) who were laughing hysterically at most of it. So, not for everyone, for sure, but definitely for those guys.