The well of mockumentary storytelling can only be tapped so many times before the water begins to turn a little brackish. Yet, while it should be seen as a daunting warning shot across the bow for other filmmakers when even a master such as Christopher Guest finds each successive lightning strike of the genre to be a little less effective than the one before, that hasn’t stopped director Brant Sersen from dipping his bucket into the well. It should have, for his mockumentary “Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story” is about as flat as a five day old soda.
Bobby Dukes (Rob Corddry) used to be the king of the paintball hill, that is until he was caught “wiping” off a hit which, in the cultish world of the paintball fraternity, is a sin punishable by professional death. Ten years have now passed since that infamous day, and Dukes has decided it’s time for a comeback. As he tries to assemble a team for the sport’s biggest event, he soon discovers that, though he’s still revered as a legend, he’s also still shunned by nearly everyone in the paintball community. Left with no other alternative, Dukes assembles a paintball team comprised of the mangiest collection of misfits, freaks and losers since “Major League.”
Well, you can probably guess what happens next: the team comes together blah, blah, blah, Dukes faces down an old nemesis blah, blah, blah, and he at last gets a chance to redeem himself blah, blah, blah and blah again.
It’s not just that the mockumentary has become a tired, cheap, lazy man’s way of storytelling — which it has, except when deftly handled by a (very) select few. The problems here stem from many other things, starting with a so-what subject matter — who but paintballers care about paintball? — and an utterly uninteresting and uncharismatic lead character who’s completely overshadowed by the (annoying) caricatures surrounding him.
We never know enough about this world to care why what Bobby Dukes did was such a big deal. We never get a sense of the game of paintball, as any paintball action is always shot in the same “flickery” style as that used in the opening of “Saving Private Ryan.” It seems a clever touch at first, but it doesn’t advance our knowledge of the game, its flow and its rules. As such, we don’t know what made Bobby so good, we don’t know why what he did was so wrong, and thus, we don’t really care about his road to redemption. And it’s not enough to say that this doesn’t matter since paintball was chosen precisely because it was innocuous and silly. If you as a filmmaker are going to ask an audience to invest 90 minutes of their lives, you’d better make them care no matter how silly the premise.
When you combine these problems with grating, one-note supporting characters and boilerplate schtick that quickly becomes tiresome, you’ve got a film in “Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story” that’s got bigger problems than just its worn-out narrative technique.