Original US release date: July 31, 1998
Production budget: $20,000,000
Worldwide gross: $7,027,290
Twenty years ago, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were riding high. Their brand-new animated series “South Park” had taken off and become a huge hit for Comedy Central and, seeing as how fandom at wide was beginning to take a greater interest in the behind-the-scenes minds responsible for their favorite movies and television shows, the two guys had become the unlikeliest of celebrities. Meanwhile, comedy writer/producer/director David Zucker (Airplane!) had been inspired to write a new film that centered around a game that he and his friends used to play in their driveways when he was younger. All he needed were a couple of stars.
“South Park” wasn’t the only modern pillar of society (just agree with me) in its infancy in 1998; the Internet was also still making its way around the world and, with it, the voices of the angry could now be beamed to all corners of the globe, straight from their mothers’ basements. And many were angry. With Parker and Stone appearing in a live-action film, shouts of “Sell-outs!” were seen in all of their misspelled glory on South Park and movie message boards and newsgroups everywhere. Of course, as usual, the entitled elite knew not of what they spoke, as Parker and Stone had made the deal to star in Zucker’s film before “South Park” had even aired. In fact, they were assuming it would be cancelled before the movie even hit theaters.
It wasn’t, of course (season 22 hits Comedy Central on September 26), which made them very busy men, for a while, as they split their time between filming a movie and making an animated television show. On top of that, the guys didn’t only act for the movie, but they rewrote it, as well, causing it to theoretically fall more in line with what their future fans would come to expect from them due to “South Park”, though, upon my re-watch for this column, I personally didn’t see a whole lot of overlap in content, humor, or even tone. In fact, while the film was rather well-received by 20-year-old me, 2018 me wasn’t nearly as impressed. It’s amazing what expanding one’s moviegoing horizons can bring to light.
The core concept is sound and provided a foundation for some solid satire, if nothing else. In the film, lifelong friends Cooper and Remer (Parker and Stone, respectively) grow weary of the increasing commercialization of professional sports. In an effort to bring authenticity back to athletics, they create their own hybridization of baseball and basketball and then create their own league. Miraculously, the game catches on and, as it becomes more and more popular, the rules set in place by the guys to keep the game pure come under threat when big business takes an interest and attempts to corrupt the game as it had with all of the other sports that came before it.
The film’s attempts to lampoon professional athletics aren’t entirely wasted, although they’re probably much too subtle for the movie’s target audience. There are some funny ideas centered around sponsorships and even the contrived systems put in place for determining who league champions are at the end of each season. But this style of humor is far from plentiful, taking a backseat to sophomoric gross-out comedy and lowest-common-denominator jokes. Fans of “South Park” have become used to Parker and Stone using that kind of humor as satire or a metaphor for something far more subtle, intelligent, and far-reaching than what is apparent on the surface. In fact, “South Park” has always been one of the smartest shows on television because of the way Parker and Stone can function on so many different levels with a single joke.
But, here, that is unfortunately not the case. Much of the humor doesn’t even have a joke to it, and relies solely on the absurdist nature of the comedic attempt to carry it through. And, in some cases, it might have worked if those striving to pull it off were decent actors. But not only are Parker and Stone subpar – and please realize that I’m saying they’re too subpar to even pull off BASEketball to the desired effect, much less something with actual prestige – but virtually everyone else in the film is, as well. Only Robert Vaughn shows any talent worth mentioning, and it’s wasted, here. Parker and Stone are excellent comedic voice actors, but ask them to do it on camera and they become insecure and uncomfortable, unsure of what to do with their own bodies and faces. It may seem ridiculous to be criticizing this movie for its underwhelming acting, but that’s where so many people go wrong; comedy is tough. And it requires good acting to make it appear natural and authentic. That’s missing, here. Although, the film does coin the word “derp”, so I suppose the world can either thank or blame it for that, depending on each individual’s perspective.
BASEketball is fine for younger, less-discerning audiences. But, despite the potential for biting commentary on the silliness that often envelops professional sports, the emphasis on easy, for-the-masses, stupid humor strips away most of the subtext and leaves this one for those with little in the way of standards. As the saying goes, Zucker, Parker, and Stone use a sword instead of scalpel and the film (as well as the audience) suffers greatly for it. Even Parker and Stone went on to make fun of the film in a later episode of “South Park”, so I would assume that they’re hoping most forget about this one (sorry for bringing it back up, guys). If you must see it for posterity’s sake, fine, but I would suggest that it’s better for all involved to just stick with what brought them to the dance.
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