While I’m not a big sports fan, I will admit (very reluctantly) that I tend to like sports movies. Generally speaking, I thought that there was only one solid exception and that is that golf movies tend to suck. However, I am now going to add a second exception to the rule, movies about British lawn bowls suck. I will also admit that prior to seeing “Blackball” I didn’t know what the sport of bowls was. However, even after viewing the film, I’m still not altogether exactly sure and I definitely couldn’t explain the rules as I, more or less, remained in a comatose state during the majority of the movie with the exception of the occasional and sporadic jolts of annoyance I felt during moments of attempted humor.
“Blackball” could be described as a British “Happy Gilmore”, but that would imply that the film has a shred of value. The film’s opening cross-cuts between Ray Speight (James Cromwell) playing bowls on the manicured lawn of a country club and the “rebellious” Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) playing on the torn up yard of what looks to be a housing project; get it, Starkey is wild and crazy while Speight is conservative and stuffy. There just aren’t enough movies in existence that contrast such craziness. The gag in the opening scene is that Starkey is trying to land the ball on a condom (this would have been funny to me when I was 12, but so was “You Can’t Do That On Television”). Starkey and Speight, of course, end up going head to head in a game of bowls at the country club (I have never been further from the edge of my seat except maybe during the films closing sequence). Contrary to popular belief, it turns out that you don’t have to be wealthy and stuffy to do well at bowls; Starkey has a natural ability to excel at the sport and he takes the game. However, he and his obligatory sidekick, being as crazy as they are, write, “Speight is a tosser” on a scorecard and it is decided, partially due to Speight’s influence, that Starkey is to be banned from bowls competition for 15 years. This unfortunate turn of events is followed by an extremely annoying scene in which Starkey crashes Speight’s party by rolling a ball down Speight’s large dining room table in slow motion to a Who song. The word irritating does not begin to cover it, as the purpose of the sequence seems to not only be an attempt at humor, at which it is unsuccessful, but also to communicate that Starkey is cool. I haven’t had to witness a scene this gross in a long time and I regularly watch slasher films. Starkey ends up falling in love with Speight’s daughter Kerry (Alice Evans) (huge surprise) which causes turmoil and, out of the blue, Vince Vaughn shows up as himself. Let me correct myself, sports agent Rich Schwartz (Vince Vaughn), who is surprisingly similar to most of the other characters played by Vince Vaughn, turns up to help propel Starkey to super stardom in the competitive world of British bowls. Starkey becomes famous, presents an MTV video award, stars in a commercial, stays in expensive hotels, generally acts like an a*****e and is eventually brought back down to earth via a series of events similar to those found in other films that follow this exact pattern. The 15-year ban is eventually revoked and Starkey is forced to partner with Speight in order to represent England in a battle of bowls. The British team faces the unfriendly “Deadly Doohans” from Australia in a painfully drawn out world championship match. I’m sure at this point you can guess the ending so I’ll stop here and say if a cross between a golf movie and “Meatballs 4” sounds remotely entertaining to you, you’ll love “Blackball”.