Yes, I know. Here’s another one that I’m a little bit ashamed to admit I had never seen before today.
Baseball plus basketball plus jokes.
Two friends, Joe “Coop” Cooper and Doug “Remer” Remer invent a new game on the fly in order to beat a more athletic pair and win a bet. The new game, combining elements of baseball and basketball, starts to attract a local following as the guys continue playing in their driveway. Soon, a professional league is formed and all is well for our heroes, until the lure of big money starts to drive a wedge between the lifelong pals. Can they reconcile in time to take their team to the championship game? What do you think?
This flick from 1998 was the first – and still the only – time when Trey Parker and Matt Stone have worked solely as actors in someone else’s production. I had assumed otherwise, but BASEketball is a David Zucker joint through and through. It embodies the same scattershot approach to comedy perfected by Zucker along with his brother Jerry and Jim Abrahams in classics like Airplane!, Top Secret! and The Naked Gun. Although they weren’t credited as writers, apparently the South Park boys did contribute a lot to the movie as it was taking shape, something you can really see if you are familiar with their oeuvre.
It feels weird that I just used the word “oeuvre” in a BASEketball review.
Since most of their work has been in animation as writers, directors and producers, it is probably often overlooked that Parker and Stone are also talented actors. They unsurprisingly share an easy on-screen rapport with each other and their usual third wheel Dian Bachar, but Parker in particular makes an appealingly wide-eyed and almost accidentally charming leading man. Unfortunately his romantic subplot is let down a bit by his paramour: Yasmine Bleeth playing against type (i.e. Baywatch) as the somewhat dowdy charity director Jenna Reed whom both Coop and Remer become hot for. Her character seems to have been written along the same lines as Jane from the Naked Gun flicks, but Bleeth doesn’t have the same ability to wink to the audience that Priscilla Presley brought to that role, leaving Jenna somewhat lifeless.
This is only a secondary plot though; the real love story is between Coop and Remer, a pair of (mostly) hetero-life-partners if ever there was one. Their’s is a much more important third-act reconciliation than Coop and Jenna, with the verbal interplay between them and Bachar easily the highlight of the film. I’ll probably never know how much of that was scripted and how much was just Matt and Trey riffing, but it’s still pretty damn funny whichever way you slice it.
For a crude R-rated comedy about a bunch of dudes and their made-up sport, there is a surprising wealth of subtext here. Around the story of the underdog new game and it’s eventual (inevitable?) corruption by the forces of capitalism, Zucker is commenting on the way modern pro sports are nothing to do with just playing the game. These days it is all about the bottom line with endorsements, corporate sponsored stadia and “franchises” who will skip town entirely if the grass is greener on the other side of the country. There is even a not-so-subtle dig at the controversy over Nike’s use of Asian sweatshops. BASEketball could almost be read as a manifesto on what the culture of professional sports should be. I’ll leave that there for now, but I might come back to this train of thought in a few weeks.
As for the movie itself, does it work as a comedy flick? For me, the answer is yes. There are a lot of laughs here, mostly of the crude but childish (and often strangely innocent) type. It is not as constantly hilarious as something like Airplane! but it is not a failure. The raft of cameos and “as himself” bit parts from old Zucker comrades like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Stack amongst many others harken back to ZAZ’s 80’s heyday. Robert Vaughn is always good value as the slimy bad guy, but he could have done with more back-up than a mostly silent Jenny McCarthy. Leaving the gags aside, it also works as a sports movie. Even if it is an entirely made-up sport.
Just to leave you with an interesting* bit of trivia, if Blame Canada had won the best song Academy Award for which it was nominated back in 1999, Trey Parker would by now be the twelfth EGOT.
*Your definition of interesting may differ slightly from mine.