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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » A League of Ordinary Gentlemen
A League of Ordinary Gentlemen
Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // March 21, 2006
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted March 20, 2006 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Believe it or not there was a time, not too long ago, when televised bowling was watched by more people than professional football. In it's heyday in the 50's and 60's the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) was widely followed in homes across the US, and bowling was the nation's number one participation sport. The league fell on hard times though. As the years went by, fewer and fewer people tuned in and in 1997 ABC stopped airing their events after a 36 year run. Nearly bankrupt and facing increasing apathy from the general public, the PBA was sold to a trio of Microsoft executives in 2000 for a mere $5 million. They hired Steve Miller, formerly of Nike, to run the league and bring the professional sport back from the edge of oblivion.

Bowling in the late 60's/early 70's.

A League of Ordinary Gentleman is a documentary that chronicles the 2003 PBA tour, as what's left of the PBA tries to instill some new energy and vitality into the sport in order to appeal to a new generation of viewers. The film starts out with a good history of the PBA, from their inception in 1958 through their heyday in the 60's and decline in the 90's. The film then profiles four bowlers and follows them across the nation as they go from tournament to tournament witnessing their struggles and hardships as well as triumphs before the climax at the first ever World Championship.

The film focuses on four talented bowlers. There's the gentlemanly Walter Ray Williams Jr. who is one of the top in the league and has made a very nice living off of the sport. Pete Weber, bowling's bad boy, is the son of a bowling hall-of-famer who was instrumental in forming the PBA. He brings a flair and aggression to the game, taunting his opponents before the match and slapping his critch with both hands when he bowls a strike. Chris Barnes is a handsome young up and comer who has twin boys and misses them when he's on the road. The last bowler they profile is Wayne Webb the most interesting of the bunch. He's one of the few bowler's who have earned over $1 million playing the game, yet he's currently broke, been divorced multiple times, and has no family. As he freely admits, he devoted his life to bowling but then pro bowling all but dried up and died. He sees this season as his last chance to make it back on top once again. With no education and no prospects, there's not much more he can do.

The other person who plays an intregal part in the story is PBA CEO Steve Miller. Early in the film before the season starts, he gathers all of the PBA bowlers together and tells them how it is: The league needs to get people interested in the sport and they need to get TV ratings. He doesn't try to sugar coat the message and at one point in the film even admits that he doesn't care what the player think. He's more interested in pleasing the fans and the sponsors.

This was a surprisingly good film. The idea of a documentary on bowling initially had me rolling my eyes and I figured that there would be a lot of camp value in the movie, but I was wrong. They play it straight, not making fun of the bowlers or their chosen profession, but examining their life and how much the sport means to them. While the film doesn't spend enough time with any one of the pros to really get to know them intimately, it does provide a good profile of these people and illustrates what they go through and the demands of the sport.

Though Pete Weber is very charismatic and Walter Williams seems like a truly nice guy that you instinctively want to succeed, it was Wayne Webb who really made the movie. He had been bowling and on the road for 27 years, and you could see in his face the toll that has taken on him. Though a lot of the reason that he was in the precarious situation that he found himself in was due to his own bad judgement, you couldn't but feel sorry for the man, someone who had real skill at the game, but was finding it more and more difficult to make a living doing the thing that he loved.

The DVD:


Audio:

This film comes with a DD 5.1 soundtrack that is very good. This is a dialog driven movie and most of the sound is centered on the screen, but the music in the film makes good use of the rear speakers. Being a documentary, this wasn't recorded under the best circumstances possible but the sound quality is still better than I would have thought. The dialog is easy to hear even with the background noise due to the locations and there isn't much distortion at all. A nice sounding disc.

Video:

The 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic image looked pretty good, especially for a documentary. The colors were strong and the level of detail was fine. There were a few problems though. The picture was a little grainy in parts, mainly when they were shooting in dark bowling alleys. This wasn't a very big flaw however. A more distressing problem was the way the handled old TV footage. In order for the entire film to have the same aspect ratio, they had to chop off the top and bottom of the 4:3 TV broadcasts that were used in the beginning of the movie. This meant that you could only see the top halves of logos and peoples names that the network originally put on the image. I think it would have been better to keep the original ratio of these vintage images and just have bars on the sides.

Extras:

There are a good number of extras on this disc There are over 16 minutes of deleted scenes including a bowling music video which is pretty funny. There are also some pretty entertaining PBA promos that ESPN ran during the season, and some very impressive trick shots that some of the pros preformed. Dexter Approach is a series of bowling tips presented during PBA broadcasts. Four of these are included with this disc. Four minutes of ESPN highlight clips and a theatrical trailer round out the bonus material.

Final Thoughts:

A surprisingly interesting and enjoyable film, this movie has a lot going for it.. While I didn't walk away from this film with a love for the sport, I do have more appreciation for the professionals who try to make a living at it. It will be interesting to see if professional bowling does become more popular over the next few years, and if the people profiled in the film will be able to breath new life into the sport. Even if you have no interest in bowling, the strength of the players personalities and the unique situation they found themselves in make for a very good film. It gets a strong recommendation.

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