Do a Shot: each time you notice an SNL favorite
Take a Drink: anytime a character acts irrationally
Take a Drink: for each sports cliche that is parodied
Take a Drink: whenever Dick Downs does anything crazy
By: Matt Conway (Three Beers) –
Parody is dead. Just kidding, parody is still very much thriving on television with shows like Saturday Night Live and throughout the internet landscape. However, as far as films go, the spoof genre as it was called is seemingly nonexistent. After several classics like Airplane, Naked Gun, and Scary Movie, the genre as a whole became over-saturated and uninspired, with directors like Marlon Wayans, Aaron Seltzer, and Jason Friedberg continuously producing some of the worst films of their respective years.
With that being the case, it seems that few have interest in even trying to make a spoof film. With the genre’s downward trend in quality came a decrease in profits, with some of the more recent films barely breaking even despite their low cost. Even with all that being the case, several SNL stars teamed up to make Balls Out, which is a thankful return to the genre’s roots. It’s far from perfect, but it’s an amiable and funny flick as a whole.
Balls Out follows the life in a crazy intramural football league at a college. After a four year hiatus from the league, fifth year senior Caleb decides to take a break from the stress of college and his potential marriage to reunite the old team one last time.
Balls Out should first and foremost be given credit for avoiding the cliches of the new-era spoof films. Writer Bradley Jackson was clearly more inspired by the vintage spoof films of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker rather than the kind of crap audiences see now, as the film has a far more focused storyline and goal. Jackson wisely avoids throwing in pointless pop culture references, rather instead focusing on satirizing the cliches of sports film.
As much as Jackson’s throwback take is a pleasant novelty, it would mean nothing if the film itself was not actually funny. Thankfully to my surprise, Balls Out features several funny moments. Jackson and director Andrew Disney clearly have an understanding of sports films’ inner workings, but also an affection for them. The duo break down the cliches of genre in clever ways, poking fun at some of the genre’s more questionable aspects.
A big part in this film coming together is the cast, who clearly are having a lot of fun here. Jake Lacy, who many remember as Max in last year’s indie darling Obvious Child, has the toughest role as the protagonist and straight-man Caleb. Lacy is a natural, though, showing a great deal of charisma and likability in the role. He is the center that holds the film together, and makes what could be a thankless character a genuine one.
What will draw many to see Balls Out in the first place is the cast chock-full of some of SNL’s finest current cast members. Some of my personal favorites such as Jay Pharoah, Kate McKinnon, and Beck Bennett all bring a lot of fun and energy to their wacky roles. Bennett especially clearly is having a lot of fun as the ironically named Dick, with his constant harassment being a source of several of the film’s laughs. Other cast members include D.C. Pierson, Nikki Reed, Nick Kocher, and Gabriel Luna.
Perhaps the most surprising aspects of the film are some of its more unique traits. Caleb’s accelerated journey to becoming an adult is seemingly everything he could want, but not quite what he wants. The idea of enjoying your final years of adolescence, doing that one last meaningless act, is actually kind of effective. This reminded me a great deal of a film a few years back called Coffee Town, with both seemingly broad comedies surprising audiences with having a bit more on their mind than their peers.
Not to over-hype the film, as Balls Out does have its fair share of flaws. Like most comedies of this nature, the film is very hit or miss from a comedy standpoint. I found while watching that most of the sports related humor seemed to hit relatively well, while a lot of the more broad material missed the mark at times. It’s a shame that Jackson’s script doesn’t do both elements equally as well, because his insight into the sports cliches is quite funny.
Balls Out has a generally unkempt nature to it, as the film has quite a few obvious technical flaws. The film’s pace in general is very uneven, with some parts moving at an extremely accelerated clip, with other moments being slower than they should be. Editing is an issue for sure, as the film suffers from being extremely uneven. Several scenes could go by without a laugh, showing that maybe the film’s 100 minute running time is too long. This could have been a tighter film, which would have made it much more effective.
While the film for the most part is able to poke fun at the sports movie cliches, I feel like it followed the sports movie formula a bit too closely as far as story goes. The story is as a whole is quite weak, following some of the more basic sports movie cliches, without even really poking fun of them. Aspects like the liar reveal subplot could have been handled with more wit, to make what was a dull detour into a funny insight.
Bringing back the old-school spoofing laughs of the past, Balls Out is a flawed, but loving spoof of the sports films that audiences know and love. Its cast filled with talented comedians bring an infectious energy to the film that is uncanny, and there are several big laughs to be had.