4 posts categorized "Sports Comedy"

April 22, 2013

SLAP SHOT — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Slap ShotRooted in America’s downturned economic reality of the late ‘70s, “Slap Shot” (1977) was the brainchild of screenwriter Nancy Dowd, the sister of minor league hockey player Ned Dowd of the Johnstown Jets. Dowd’s ferociously comic script plays on behind-the-scenes aspects of how a ‘70s-era minor league hockey team conducts business. Cursing, alcoholism, sex, silly promotional stunts, sarcastic radio interviews, arrests, and brutal violence are all part of a sports team that helps sustain an urban population. Misogyny meets its match in Dowd’s tough female characters that stand their ground as well as their macho counterparts. For every sexist jibe, an effective riposte follows.

Director George Roy Hill advanced the box office successes he enjoyed with “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting” by casting Paul Newman in the lead role as Reg Dunlop, an aging hockey player and coach for the fictional Charleston Chiefs. Newman’s prodigious gift for chewing scenery takes flight when he puts on skates during comical hockey games that become more bloodbaths than sporting events.

SlapShot

News that the town’s local mill is shutting down puts a dark cloud over the losing Chiefs hockey team. Newman’s optimistic character takes charge, turning the team into a squad of goons more concerned with throwing punches than scoring goals. The plan works; more blood on the ice means more butts in seats. Reg plants a bogus story in the local newspaper that an unnamed investor from a Florida retirement community is interested in buying the Chiefs. The ploy temporarily animates the Chiefs into a winning team even as Reg’s personal relationships falter.

“Slap Shot” is a sports movie that revels in details of milieu, plot and character. Smokestacks billow white plumes from a perpetually overcast industrial skyline. Everything is old and weather-beaten. Every victory is tainted. A trio of brothers (the Hansons) — hired more for their ability to fight than to score goals — provide a wealth of character tics — from the toys they take with them on the road to the Coke-bottle glasses that they audaciously wear like science-geeks-turned-jocks. Michael Ontkean’s Ned Braden stands up for integrity in the game of hockey, and yet has none when it comes to his girlfriend Lily (Lindsay Crouse). The couple’s relationship of confused sexuality contributes significantly to the film’s one-of-a-kind conclusion.

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Playing “dirty” proves more lucrative than playing fair. It’s a defective principle that coincidentally took over in corporate and political philosophy around the same time that “Slap Shot” identified an embarrassing truth surrounding hockey. If viewed as a harbinger of social realities to come, “Slap Shot” is more than a little perceptive. The mill is closed; entire cities lost their livelihoods, and the goons took over. At least you can still laugh out loud at “Slap Shot.”

Newman&Ontkean

Rated R. 123 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves) 


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September 08, 2012

THE BAD NEWS BEARS — CLASSIC FILM PICK

The Bad News BearsRife with every non-politically-correct social tic that '70s America had to offer, “The Bad News Bears” (1976) is a sports comedy that serves as a cultural benchmark. Everything from racial integration and feminism to immigration and the country’s lawsuit-happy tendencies weave their way into Bill Lancaster’s brilliant script. Mostly however, the story is about a group of young kids learning life lessons through playing the game of baseball under the guidance of a highly imperfect coach.

Walter Matthau’s no-nonsense Morris Buttermaker is a chain-smoking alcoholic pool cleaner living in Los Angeles. He drives an old beat-up Cadillac with the trunk taken off to accommodate his tools. Based on his penchant for mixing whisky with his beer, Boilermaker might just as well be his nickname. Walter Matthau’s nonchalant sense of comic timing is a beautiful thing. He makes every beat ring with truth and just the right tone of justifiable wit.

His character’s reputation as a former minor-league pitcher of some renown brings Morris to the attention of Mr. Whitewood, a slimy city councilman with an axe to grind regarding his son Toby’s eligibility to play ball in the area’s competitive little league teams. Whitewood hires Morris under the table to coach a team of some of the worst child baseball players ever assembled. Morris initially takes his coaching duties with a grain of salt. But leading such a group of disadvantaged misfits does something to Morris after his Bears team is forced to forfeit their first game after the score goes to 26 – 0 against the Yankees. The Yankees’ mean-spirited coach Roy (deviously played by Vic Morrow) makes a taunting rival for Morris to prove himself against via his team’s race for the championship.

Badnewsbears.colesmithey.com

Director Michael Ritchie understands the thought processes of his cast of 12-year-olds. Patient attention is given to allowing the kids to voice their well-drawn personalities. The kids curse, call each other dirty names, fight, and try to prove themselves on the baseball field.

Tatum O’Neil is the movie’s secret weapon. Fresh off her Oscar win for her film-acting debut in “Paper Moon” (1973), O’Neil plays Amanda Whurlitzer, the daughter of a woman Morris used to date. Morris knows Amanda throws a mean curveball because he taught her how. He bribes her into pitching for the Bears by agreeing to pay for her ballet lessons. Tatum O’Neil attacks her scenes with a determined poise that shines opposite Matthau’s leathery delivery. Acting magic happens. Jackie Earle Haley makes an impression as the neighborhood tough kid who Morris plots to get on his team.

Badnewsbears

“The Bad News Bears” is an entertaining example of the kinds of freedoms kids in the ‘70s took for granted. It’s also one of the best sports comedies ever made.


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March 25, 2012

Goon



GoonTrading on hockey's blood-splattering brutality as a ripe source for comic possibilities, "Goon" is a warm-hearted sports comedy with a romantic left hook. Based loosely on Doug Smith's autobiographical book "Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey in Minor League Hockey," screenwriters Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad") celebrate Canada's national sport with intoxicating juvenile irreverence.

Seann William Scott is well cast as Doug Glatt, a bar bouncer whose overachieving family members look down on him as a doomed loser. Beside his innocent charm, Doug’s main gift is a knack for using his fists. His punching skills get noticed at a hockey game where Doug and his sharp-tongued best friend Ryan (Jay Baruchel) attract the unwanted attention of a player who wades into the stands to pummel the pair of goofs for heckling. Doug makes short work of the player's face. An invitation the next day from the coach for the Halifax Highlanders gives Doug an opportunity to work on the ice as an enforcer. Doug takes to his new occupation, as a faux hockey player, body and soul. Although he can barely stand in a pair of skates, Doug embraces team life with a passion. His new job title allows Doug sway with Eva (comically played by Allison Pill), a self-proclaimed bad-girl with a weakness for hockey players. A serial cheater, Eva dates Doug in spite of her preppy live-in boyfriend.

Liev Schreiber brings a hilariously brooding dimension to the procedings as Ross Rhea, a veteran hockey enforcer with one sure path to facing off against his biggest fan, Doug Glatt. “Goon” does a good job of staying true to its emotionally genuine foundation. Doug and Ryan are instantly recognizable as amiable guys who would be a blast to hang out with. Their sense of humor has a comfortable familiarity about it. The screwball violence that occurs is handled with kindness by filmmakers who never allow any twinge of meanness to violate the comedy. Add to that a couple of charming character transformations in the name of love, and you’ve got a winning sports-comedy with a romantic twist.

Rated R. 90 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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