The raunchy sports comedy is a cinema staple, as respected as the greatest film classics. Golf has Caddyshack, hockey has Slap Shot, baseball has Major League or Bull Durham (depending on your tastes) and now softball has its own seminal classic, Artie Lange’s Beer League.
Artie DeVanso (Lange) is an unemployed, drunken loser who lives at home with his mother. The only tasks he seems capable of consistently performing are sleeping, eating, drinking and making it to his weekly softball game. His teammates aren’t much better. Johnny (Jimmy Palumbo) is infatuated with his softball batting average, Dave (Joe Lo Truglio) couldn’t hit a ball that is taped to his bat and pitcher Dirt (Seymour Cassel) excels only in insulting the team as they screw up another play. After one drunken brawl too many with crosstown rivals Mangenelli Fitness, instigated by Artie’s obsessive hatred for the team’s owner-player Mangenelli (Anthony DeSando), the two teams are given the following ultimatum: the best team out of the two gets to stay in the league, the other team has to find a new home. And thus the stage is set for the losers to climb out of the gutter enroute to the battle for the right to keep the team.
If The 40 Year Old Virgin was proof that an R-rated movie with real vulgarity and nudity can still succeed in the politicially-correct mainstream cinema, Beer League is a welcome extension to that vein of comedy that all but disappeared in the ’90s. Taking its cues from the sports comedy classics mentioned above, and with more than enough of the original Bad News Bears (you know, if they never got any better at ball but then discovered copious amounts of drugs and alcohol), Beer League is a welcome return to a time when comedy was offensive and disturbing, but hilariously so. Beer League, by the end credits, has probably offended every major religion, race and sexual orientation (I’m still trying to figure out which word gets used more often: “f**k,” “f*g” or “guido”) but that’s what makes it great. Since when does comedy have to live in the safe zone? By offending everything and everyone, the film achieves that necessary objective balance that says that “everything is game, everything is funny” and that is, ultimately, why the film succeeds.
Acting-wise, it’s great seeing Ralph Macchio in a film again (and this time without waxing-off some old guy). His character may not be the main pivot of the film, but his friendship with Artie is one of the major undercurrents that gives the comedy heart. Macchio’s Maz is the guy we all know who was never really ugly, never really disliked but also never really successful either… though you could never convince him otherwise.
If there is a criticism to be lobbed in the unrealistic category, it has to do with the choice of Artie’s love interest Linda (Cara Buono). Linda is unbelievably gorgeous, and somehow is all over the slovenly Artie, even though sex with him entails 20 seconds of wheezing and sweat. One can hardly fault Lange for picking a great-looking leading lady, but, yeah, it’s a challenge to believe that she sees anything in him. Then again, to off-set this, she is portrayed as the town (nay, possibly state) slut who regularly sees a psychologist…
Artie Lange’s Beer League is a welcome return to the raunchy hey-day of comedy, a true guy’s film. Get your friends together, sneak in a couple beers and check it out!
Check out FilmThreat.com’s exclusive video interview with Artie Lange from Cinevegas 2006 >>>