Much was made of the blindingly fast theatrical-to-DVD window (given a limited release on Feb. 11, it was reborn on DVD a mere four days later) for National Lampoon's Blackball, when in reality, Blackball (sans the "National Lampoon" imprimatur) was released theatrically in Europe in 2003 and on DVD in 2004. So much for the media's assumption that this was some piece of crap dumped straight to video after a last-minute cash grab.
OK, maybe that cash grab part is true - I can't fathom why the powers that be didn't just go ahead and release this perfectly engaging and entertaining sports-themed comedy straight to video. While the film's premise essentially repurposes Happy Gilmore and a little bit of the Farrelly brothers' Kingpin, National Lampoon's Blackball is still a goofy lark that would easily kill a Saturday night without anyone feeling ripped off.
Paul Kaye stars as Cliff Starkey, a layabout whose dead-end career fuels his troublemaking ways. However, there is one thing about which Cliff is quite passionate: lawn bowling. Much to this dismay of the local lawn bowling club, presided over by Ray Speight (James Cromwell), the rebellious Cliff attracts the attention of American sports agent Rick Schwartz (Vince Vaughn), who works to paint Cliff as the "bad boy" of lawn bowling. Despite their mutual antagonism, Ray and Cliff team up in an effort to defeat the Australian lawn bowling team for the world championship - but who will emerge victorious?
If you haven't watched a sports movie in the past 15 years, you'll be surprised by the outcome - otherwise, it's a narrative strictly by the numbers. This, of course, doesn't stop the cast from having a blast - Vaughn is a riot as Schwartz, the ugly American abroad and Kaye exudes charisma as the put-upon Cliff while Cromwell is appropriately starchy as the lawn bowling overlord Ray. Also, look for recent Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) in a small role. National Lampoon's Blackball isn't anything new, but it is fun - and for some flicks, that's enough.
National Lampoon's Blackball is presented in a crisp, clear 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There weren't any defects or flaws to the picture that I could detect, other than intermittent softness. Oh, and the truly aggravating decision by First Look Media for the image to turn from color to black and white whenever the "Property of First Look Media" stamp appeared at the bottom of the frame. Here's a heads-up for any companies providing screeners - it really jerks you out of the film whenever the color suddenly disappears for minutes at a time. Extremely annoying.
The packaging promises Dolby Digital 5.1 but all that was onboard this screener was a serviceable Dolby 2.0 stereo mix. I wish that the screener had included the full 5.1 mix as the soundtrack boasts cuts from Doves, Queen and The Who, among others. For what I was provided, however, dialogue and the aforementioned Brit rock soundtrack came through loud and clear with no distortion. Spanish subtitles are also included. A decent effort.
The only extras offered are some forced trailers that can only be fast-forwarded through - National Lampoon's Blackball, Remember Me, My Love, Unsolved Mysteries and The Easter Egg Adventure.
National Lampoon's Blackball may have arrived on DVD quickly, but hopefully it'll have some kind of shelf life. The performances are engaging and while the story beats a dead horse, it does so from a fairly fresh perspective and also features a pretty killer soundtrack - worth a rental.