In the Summer of 1998, a comedy came along that took the box-office by storm, playing to packed houses for months as it dazzled audiences with its surprisingly racy humor and crude sweetness. That film, of course, was There’s Something About Mary. But there was another comedy released that summer – in fact, it was released on the very same day as There’s Something About Mary. Directed by David Zucker of Airplane! and The Naked Gun fame, and starring the creators of the then brand new smash hit South Park, the film took dead aim at the culture of entitlement and corruption in major league sports. And while it seemed like it was destined to fade into obscurity, nobody could have then predicted the lasting impact that BASEketball would have on the culture at large.
Obviously I’m being facetious here; time has, sadly, little remembered BASEketball. Matt Stone and Trey Parker themselves have expressed some embarrassment at their participation, coming as it did when the duo were still young and hungry. (Although that didn’t stop them from using certain gags in their TV show, which means we have BASEketball to thank for Mr. Derp!) David Zucker went on to direct the godawful liberal-trolling “spoof” An American Carol, and prominent co-star Jenny McCarthy later dedicated her life to reintroducing preventable diseases into the population with a vengeance. Robert Vaughan, however, went on to star in the seminal Louis CK film Pootie Tang, in a role similar to the one in BASEketball, so the film’s legacy isn’t all bad.
After an opening sequence skewering the ridiculousness of modern major league sports, we pick up Coop (Trey Parker) and Remer (Matt Stone), two ne’er-do-well pals who just wanna hang out, drink brewskis, and shoot hoops in their driveway. Finding themselves at a high-school reunion where everyone is more successful than they are, the duo improvise a new sport, a hybrid of Basketball and Baseball, in order to impress the partygoers. The game gains a surprising amount of popularity, finally being transformed into a National BASEketball League by billionaire entrepreneur Ted Denslow (Ernest Borgnine – not sure if he made any movies other than this one). Flash forward a few years and Coop, Remer, and their friend/object of perpetual torment Squeak Scolari (Dian Bachar) are at the top of the game and BASEketball has become the new American Pastime. But when Denslow dies and control over the league threatens to fall into the hands of nefarious Baxter Cain (Robert Vaughan), Coop, Remer and Squeak have to pull together to save their friendship, as well as the game they know and love so well.
A cross between the Zucker Bros madcap style of comedy and the raunchier stylings of Stone and Parker’s South Park, BASEketball is, at heart, an almost unbelievably stupid film. And yet I’ve seen it more than I’ve seen some of my favorite movies of all time. Part of it was the timing of its initial release: As an impressionable young South Park fan I was eager to see anything the creators were involved with, and the broad slapstick meshed well with my 10 year old sensibilities. Even to this day, though, I still get an inordinate amount of pleasure from the sheer conviction with which the film hurls itself into some of the dumbest gags around. Even though the Zucker was past his prime as a masterful comedic filmmaker, BASEketball still maintains some of his early work’s anarchic spirit and skill with a sight gag (plus a wonderful Kareem Abdul-Jabbar cameo). It would be a few years yet before he’d hit the twin nadirs of My Boss’ Daughter or An American Carol. And it’s a real treat seeing both Parker and Stone onscreen, as their easy chemistry translates perfectly to these wise crackin’ dudes.
***SIDEBAR***Speaking of dudes, they say “dude” a ton in this movie. And “sweet.” If one were to drink while watching BASEketball – and really, why not? – and took a swig every time “dude” or “sweet” is uttered… well one would actually have the makings of a pretty great drinking game, IMO. ***END SIDEBAR***
Most of the cast is terrific, in fact. Robert Vaughan is hysterical as the clueless/villainous Cain, while Ernest Borgnine has a lot of fun with his scenes as rich crackpot Denslow. But special mention must be made of Dian Bachar, actor and college friend of Stone & Parker, as Squeak “Little Bitch” Scolari. Putting his diminutive stature to extremely effective use, Squeak spends the film being relentlessly mocked by his so-called “friends,” humiliated in front of a national sports audience, and generally having a very bad time of things. Bachar in the role is a more-than-able physical comedian, and the gag that finally reveals where Squeak makes his home is one of the funniest bits in the film.
There’s plenty more great stuff in BASEketball – an extended cameo by ’90s ska stalwarts Reel Big Fish, a parody of Unsolved Mysteries (complete with Robert Stack!), and a pair of truly bizarre performances by sportscasters Al Michaels and Bob Costas, to name just a few examples – but I don’t want to spoil too much of the experience for the viewer. Suffice it to say that if you’re craving a comedy of sparkling wit and sophistication, then you probably haven’t been paying attention to these past few paragraphs. If you’re looking for a movie so devoted to being dumb that it becomes sort of perversely brilliant… well you’re definitely getting warmer. Your mileage, as always, will vary. I won’t say that audiences in 1998 necessarily had it wrong, but I still have a perhaps inordinate affection for this silly little also-ran.