BASEketball should’ve been a hit. It starred Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who were behind the hit TV show South Park in its prime and directed by David Zucker who had The Naked Gun movies and Airplane! on his resume. It should’ve been a slam dunk. But there is no such thing as an easy win.
It didn’t help matters that There’s Something About Mary had opened two weeks earlier and it had received good reviews and became a surprise box office. Critics even compared BASEketball to Mary which wasn’t fair. Both movies mix low-brow humor in a formulaic movie. But this wasn’t like the comparisons between Deep Impact and Armageddon, which was another juggernaut at the box office. David Zucker co-wrote and directed the movie. He had hits with Airplane! and the first two Naked Gun movies. But this would be his first R-rated movie since the criminally underrated Ruthless People. (And I’m sure a lot of the R rating was improve by Parker and Stone who use foul language like punctuation.)
However, audiences stayed away and went to see Armageddon, Mary and Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning epic. It was a rough summer. Out of Sight, the brilliant crime flick that made Steven Soderbergh a household name and catapulted the film careers of George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez was also a box office disappointment despite good reviews.
BASEketball starts out as part parody of contemporary sports which even by 1990s standards were becoming tiresome. The movie begins with a narrator criticizing players only cared more about celebrating as what appears to be the Dallas Cowboys doing an Irish dance jig in the end zone. The focus turns to how stadium arenas had become nothing more than product placements, which has only gotten worse. (Look at the Capital One Bowl or the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.) Free agents turned players into hired guns. Jerry M Arli$$ were both prime examples of this.
But two young men, Joe Cooper (Parker) and Doug Remer (Stone), are down on their luck in their 20s. There were childhood friends who witnessed Reggie Jackson hit the three home runs during the 1977 World Series when he played for the New York Yankees. Joe or “Coop” as he’s called caught the third home run and always dreamed of being a sports star too. They crash a party of several people they went to high school with only to find themselves being challenged to a basektball game by preppy jocks.
Because they’re only good at making free throws, Coop and Doug talk the jocks into playing by baseball rules and psyche out the players by saying or doing things to distract them. They end up winning their game and some money by betting. As they focus more on the game, another person they grew up with, Kenny Scolari (Dian Bachar), who they call “Squeak” despite his objections, joins their team and crashes at their house.
Over time, the sport becomes popular around the Milwaukee area where they live. And Coop and Doug are approached by Ted Denslow (Ernest Borgnine) a former actor turned business billionaire who feels that the popularity of the game can spread all over the country. Coop isn’t interested at first because of all the commercialism of other sports. But Denslow entices him that players won’t be allowed to trade teams and teams won’t move to other cities and everyone will be paid the same like it used to be, which Coop mentions sounds like they’re “indentured servants.”
Five years later, the sport has spread all over the place and Coop, Doug and Squeak make up the Milwaukee Beers in the championship game against the Dallas Felons, owned by another wealthy businessman Baxter Cain (Robert Vaughn). Only that Cain wants to make more money off the sports but his hands are tied because Denslow refuses. Yet, Denslow accidentally chokes on a hotdog during a crucial moment in the game which distracts Coop while he’s taking his shot, causing the Beers to lose the Denslow Cup.
Denslow does leaving controlling interest of the Beers to Coop on the condition they win the next season’s Denslow Cup. If not, all interest will revert to his trophy wife, Yvette (Jenny McCarthy) who lacks any smarts. Cain tries to smooth talk her about “laying some carpet” and “my lobby needs buffing” yet she thinks he’s being literal. As they begin the next season, Coop and Doug also vie for the affection of Jenna Reed (Yasmine Bleeth) the director of the Dreams Come True Foundation, which Denslow has allowed season tickets for all home games.
Jenna tells Coop that he has a big fan in Joey Thomas (Trevor Einhorn), who is very sickly and in need of operations. Joey has outrageous ideas of poisioning reservoirs and big-game hunting shooting endangered animals as his last wish. At the same time, Cain tries to get Doug to get Coop to come around to the idea of monetizing more on the sport, even if it means resorting to dirty tactics.
While the movie does rely more on low-brow and sophomoric jokes than There’s Something About Mary, there’s some great humor lost. The Beers have three other players who don’t do anything at all. They wear jerseys and just sit on the bench. I’d like to think this is the a parody of the “designated hitter” rule of baseball or how other sports teams will pad their roosters and line-ups with multiple people just to be eligible.
Bob Costas and Al Micheals play themselves as announcers who talk too much. In one scene, they have a person who’s supposed to be a TV actor on a popular show sitting with them in the announcer’s booth but immediately cut him off before he can say anything. This is a parody of how announcers seem to always have to be blabbing and are afriad of “dead air” even for a few seconds. A running joke is how Michaels is sexually attracted to all the cheerleaders who are usually scantily clad and “just hard to believe that five years ago, those girls were only in grade school.” Speaking of the cheerleaders, there’s a blink and miss cameo of Zucker and his brother, Jerry, and their former directing buddy Jim Abrahams, reacting to the cheerleaders.
Some might criticize the movie’s view of women as sex objects, but when the Beers play the San Francisco Ferries, the cheerleaders seem to be more suited at Chippendales as they are men who are very muscular and toned. Some could say the movie has a biased against the LGBTQIA community with this one scene but the rest of the movie takes potshots at all people. New Jersey has a team whose mascot is the Informants and the Miami Dealers have a person with a chainsaw as their mascot. The Miami Marlins would later copy the same color and lettering for their jerseys which many people noted.
The movie is also notable for introducing the word “Derp” into use as Doug says it while acting stupid to psyche out a player from San Antonio. While the movie seems to be going for cheap laughs at times, the performances of Parker and Stone sell the movie. During one scene, they get into an argument where all they say is “Dude” to each other in different tones. They later said they had anticipated South Park to be canceled when they agreed to sign on to the moive but the show had become a big hit so they were having to work on both projects at the same time. Parker had reportedly been previously approached to direct High School High which Zucker and wrote and produced, but turned it down because he was working on South Park.
It could just be audiences had become burnt out on sports comedies as they had become formulaic in the 1990s with the underdogs beating the better teams in the end. Kingpin, which the Farrelly Brothers (Bobby and Peter) had made in 1996 wasn’t a financial success despite critical acclaim. Now, it’s regarded as a great comedy of the era. BASEketball is more like Slap Shot in that it goes for the raunchy laughs rather than The Mighty Ducks.I thinl the problem was even Major League was making PG movies so audiences stayed away.
Yet, BASEketball found its audience on home video and the cable market. Parker and Stone would later mock how bad the movie was when it was referenced on South Park. With basketball season ending and baseball in full swing, it’s a nice comedy to watch when there’s a game’s rained out.
What do you think? Please comment.