Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How Could Such a Funny Idea Go So Wrong?: "Celtic Pride" (1996)

Judd Apatow has been on a roll. He has directed, produced, or written: "The 40 Year Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," "Pineapple Express," TV's "Freaks and Geeks," "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," "Superbad," "Talladega Nights"...the list goes on and on. While not everything he touches turns to gold ("Drillbit Taylor"), it is interesting that he wrote the screenplay for this comedy- but its failure may not be his fault.

Physical education teacher Mike (Daniel Stern) and plumber Jimmy (Dan Aykroyd) are diehard Boston Celtics fans. They are attending the Celts' NBA Finals games against the Utah Jazz in the last few matches before the Celtics' home stadium is torn down. The one person standing in the way of the Celtics' championship, and Mike and Jimmy's eternal joy, is Utah's Lewis Scott (Damon Wayans), a spoiled star player who feels he is carrying his "lesser" teammates. Mike's sports widow wife Carol (a way too serious Gail O'Grady) has filed for divorce again, and Jimmy is all alone- the men only have their sports teams and Lewis has gone and mopped the floor with the Celtics, forcing a final game seven.

After hearing Lewis is partying at a local bar, Mike and Jimmy decide to get Lewis so drunk he will play with a hangover and the Celtics will win. The plan starts fine, as Mike and Jimmy get as drunk as Lewis, all three blacking out. The next morning, Lewis' hands are duct taped together and Mike and Jimmy have inadvertently become kidnappers.

Lewis is not stupid, and begins playing with the guys' psyches. Mike and Jimmy act stupid, but they are able to get under Lewis' skin as well. Carol, and Mike's son, see Lewis and things get more complicated after a couple of escape attempts. The climax is the all important Game 7, and Mike, Jimmy, and Lewis must come to terms with their behaviors and personalities.

What professional sports fan hasn't wished an opposing team's star player would just disappear off the face of the planet? Growing up a Dallas Cowboys fan, I must admit ill will for the likes of Terry Bradshaw, and entire teams like the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. When Mike and Jimmy snatch Lewis, the dormant sports fan in me smiled. Apatow and co-story writer Colin Quinn seem to have answered the prayers of many a sports fan. Unfortunately, director Tom DeCerchio cannot seem to deliver the goods.

While Stern's Mike is a pretty well written character (high school athlete who never made it big), Aykroyd's Jimmy is all over the place. A 40ish year old virgin type who lives alone, Jimmy played by Aykroyd is not funny. Wayans is best as Lewis, but he plays the stuck up basketball player none too deeply, as if this was an extended skit on "In Living Color." Wayans even borrows his homeless guy character in the drinking scenes. The supporting cast includes very brief turns by Darrell Hammond and Jeffrey Ross, but someone needs to tell sports legends like Larry Bird and Bill Walton that they cannot act. Deion Sanders is okay, but geez, sitting through this and "Space Jam" would only prove my point. Christopher McDonald as Lewis' Pat Riley-like coach gets the biggest laughs.

I am not sure who to blame for the film's grimy look. Director of photography Oliver Wood bathes the screen in dingy brown. Production designer Stephen Marsh scores here and there (especially Jimmy's sports-centric home), but even the Celtic green and Jazz purple seem toned down and drab. Basil Poledouris' not-there musical score doesn't help.

From the previews a few years ago, I thought "Celtic Pride" couldn't miss. Instead, it got lousy reviews and flopped. I guess sometimes those fans in the cheap seats are right. (* *) out of five stars.