Friday, 14 December 2012

BASEketball (1998)

Dir. David Zucker
Starring: Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Dian Bachar, Yasmine Bleeth 

Ah, another American sports movie. We have had American football (Remember the Titans), we have had baseball (Bull Durham) and we have had basketball (Best Shot). Now we have BASEketball. What, you’ve never heard of it? 

In the movie BASEketball is a sport invented by two twenty-something drop-outs, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper and Doug Remer (Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park: the Movie). Challenged to shoot hoops by two athletic preppies they create their own game on the spur of the moment, claiming that they learnt it “in the hood”. At its basic level players have to get a ball into a basket; however there are different bases from which the ball can be thrown, resulting in a variable amount of points scored. They also invent a rule allowing the defenders to put off the shooter with “psych outs”. Coop and Remer win the match and start a craze.  

Fast forward five years and the two friends are playing BASEketball professionally. The sport has remained true to its slacker roots and is free from corporate exploitation. When the founder of the BASEketball League (and owner of the Milwaukee Beers, for whom the two pals play) chokes to death on a hotdog he leaves ownership of the team to Coop. He blocks any attempts by rival owner Baxter Cain (Robert Vaughan) to increase the profitability of the game – which sets up a confrontation with best friend Remer.

BASEketball is a broadside against corporate dominance of American sport. Its central premise is that sport is no longer owned by the fans. Sportsmanship takes second place to profit. Owners want to maximise their returns rather than inspire a nation. The opening narration describes a sports establishment out of touch with its roots. We may laugh, but many of the same criticisms can be levelled against English sport too. It comments on sports teams being franchises that move around the country at will (take a bow MK Dons). It notes that historic stadia are now named after sponsors (take a look at the Emirates Stadium or the Etihad). It criticises mercenary athletes trading one team for another (take your pick, but ‘Cashly Cole’ or any player involved with Kia Joorabchian would be my choice). It says that more effort goes into extravagant goal celebrations than in competing in the first instance (and I recalled Gazza’s ‘dentist’s chair’, Robbie Fowler’s ‘coke snort’ and Mario Ballotelli’s ‘Why is it always me?’ t-shirt). Football is priced out of reach of the masses while Premier League players earn twenty times the average annual wage per week. In this film the catering to ‘the fans’ is the prime attribute of any sport. 

Sadly, one would presume that all such fans are male. This is an incredibly sexist film. Yasmine Bleeth plays the virgin (Coop’s love interest - yes, an ex-Baywatch star is the virgin!); Jenny McCarthy plays the whore (she has about ten lines and is mostly seen buffing floors in heels and a microdress). Other than a crabby old nurse the only other women seen are “Victoria Silvstedt, Playmate of the Year” in a jacuzzi and the cheerleaders, who gyrate pitchside in thongs, bras and dominatrix outfits. Though it should be pointed out that the San Francisco Ferries (pronounced ‘Fairies’), have all-male cheerleaders to go with their pink uniform and camp mannerisms. Yes, the team from San Francisco is populated entirely by gay stereotypes. The comedy is not subtle. Other teams include the New Jersey Informants (with Italian-American characatures straight from Jersey Shore), the Hispanic Miami Dealers, the redneck San Antonio Defenders and the African-American L.A. Riots. Actors of the calibre of Robert Vaughan (who ends up with birdpoo on his face) and Ernest Borgnine (who strips to ‘I’m Too Sexy’) are used embarrassingly. 

And this is a shame because the interactions between Parker, Stone and Dian Bachar’s Squeak, the butt of all their jokes (“Goddammit! I swear if you guys rip on me 13 or 14 more times… I’m outta here!”) are funny. A good deal of improvisation was layered on top of the script. One Coop psych-out involves him doing the voice of Eric Cartman. At another point a mournful country ballad comes on the car radio that could have come straight from Team America: World Police ("Even if some guy's tryin-a blackmail you / And your girlfriend thinks you suck / It's up to you to let them know / That it was all just part of some rich guy's evil plan / Look out ahead - there's a truck changing lanes..."). There is a joy to the cartoonishness that hides the sexism / homophobia etc. Only those with an inquiring mind are likely to stress over the negative elements. There is a cleverness to the description of the overly-complicated play-off system (With the first nine months of the Baseketball postseason out of the way, the playoff picture is starting to emerge… With last night's victory over Boston, next week the Milwaukee Beers must beat Indianapolis in order to advance to Charlotte. That's in an effort to reduce their magic number to three... Then the Beers can advance to the National Eastern Division North to play Tampa. So, if the Beers beat Detroit and Denver beats Atlanta in the American Southwestern Division East Northern, then Milwaukee goes to the Denslow Cup, unless Baltimore can upset Buffalo and Charlotte ties Toronto, then Oakland would play LA and Pittsburgh in a blind choice round robin. And if no clear winner emerges from all of this, a two-man sack race will be held on consecutive Sundays until a champion can be crowned.”)

They may have had their pyjamas on but
they didn't want to go to bed yet

I am left wondering why a sport which was meant to belong to tha fans was created with a structure where the owners of clubs could agree amongst themselves to change the rules of the game. Why isn’t there an independent governing body? But I suppose we shouldn’t ask these questions. BASEketball is a stupid, silly check-your-brain-at-the-door movie. In which, ironically enough, the rules of the sport in question are clearer than those in Best Shot, Bull Durham or Remember the Titans. 

What have I learnt about Wisconsin?
Thi is, like Bridesmaids, a Wisconsin movie set in Milwaukee. Assuming that all the teams are based on stereotypes (that Dallas is full of Felons, Roswell of Aliens, San Francisco of Ferries / Fairies and New Jersey of Informants) it seems as though Milwaukee is full of Beers. It must have a famous brewing history – the local baseball team are the Milwaukee Brewers. The supporters love their wacky pint-tankard headgear too – reminiscent of the Packers’ ‘Cheeseheads’. But the implication is that Milwaukee sports teams are somehow closer to the fans and less corporate than those from other cities. 

Can we go there?
Bridesmaids was set in Milwaukee but filmed around Los Angeles. BASEketball was set in Milwaukee but filmed… around Los Angeles.

Coop and Remer’s house is in Long Beach – 1011 E 46th Street to be precise. The hospital they visit is also in Long Beach, the VA Medical Centre up on E 7th Street. Baxter Cain’s (Dallas) offices were actually 1100 Wilshire Boulevard (now owner-occupied ondos) in LA. Even Calcutta Airport was really Long Beach Airport. 

Overall Rating: 3/5

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