If nothing else, writer/director Daniel Kraus hit a home run by casting indie actor Mark Mench in his sophomore DV effort, Ball Of Wax. A tale about the dark side of America's national pastime, Bret Packard (Mench) is MVP for the championship Carolina Devils. However, being the top player for the top team in the country leaves him bored, so he devises a series of challenges, for both himself and his team, that soon spiral out of control until mayhem, madness and murder loom large over the playing field.
Not so much a statement about professional sports or professional athletes, Ball Of Wax is more along the lines of American Psycho, where America's worship of public Idols and wealth corrupts ones very soul. Mench is reminiscent of America's one-time poster boy, Derek Jeter (the film was shot around 2003), only Packard is the anti-Jeter. Sure he's the MVP, but instead of inspiring his fellow teammates he pits them against one another, creating rivalries where there should be camaraderie's, twisting his fellow players to his will with promises of money and respect.
Ball Of Wax follows the Carolina Devils over the course of a new season. Kraus breaks the movie up into nine innings, same as a ball game, but also like a ball game, there is a definite seventh inning stretch. Kraus wants his script to read like Shakespeare, but sadly, trying to present this "team" to us the best in the nation doesn't quite hold our suspension of disbelief. As we all know, a top paid athlete in this country is a celebrity, both a target for the media and the public alike. The vacuum that these players operate in is more than evident. If he hadn't set his sights so high, perhaps Ball Of Wax would be an easier movie to swallow. I'm all for a good passion play (Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant ranks right up there on my list), but Packard would be too public a figure for even a third of the film's events to have happen.
Now back to my earlier praise of relative newcomer Mark Mench. He really gives a tremendous performance as the classic likable bad guy… well, maybe not exactly likeable, but for the type of character he plays, he hits every low-down, dirty key. You always hear actors talk about how they love to play the villain. The villain gets the best lines, the villain causes the most reaction in the audience, and lets face it, we all love to hate, otherwise why would Gary Oldman, John Malkovich, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken all have such a rogue's gallery on their resumes?
Picture: Ball Of Wax, is presented in a 1.85:1 widescreen presentation. This movie was shot on DV, but through various processing effects, it has the look and hue of film without any of the noticeable grain. The colors are pretty washed out and drab throughout the film, and the lack of budget often shows in the production.
Audio: There is a 2.0 channel Dolby Digital Stereo Track, which sounds good, although the dialogue was often whispered necessitating volume adjustment from time to time. Eric Bachmann (Archers of Loaf, Crooked Fingers) provided an original soundtrack for the film, which was definitely a highlight of the piece.
Extras: For an indie DV feature, Go Kart films has provided some nice Extra features including a commentary track, some deleted scenes, audition tapes, a Q&A session from the Cinequest film festival (where Ball Of Wax won for Best Director), an NPR segment on the Soundtrack and trailers for other Go Kart Films.
Conclusion: Sadly, not even a great performance (not that I'm saying Mark Mench's performance was great) can save a mediocre film. More than anything, what hurts Ball Of Wax the most is that it tries to be something bigger than it needed to be. These kind of Machiavellian manipulations of base and simple-minded jocks could have occurred on a minor league team, and should have. By trying to amp up the pressure on and the status of these players and present them as the best of the best is just too much to swallow. So much so that by the time the seventh inning stretch comes along and the team enters group counseling by a self-help guru, you can't help but laugh at a film that held the promise of so much good natured menace. Rent it.