You know you're a dork when: You're watching a Rob Corddry movie and you get way too excited to see Corddry's "Daily Show" co-star, Ed Helms, pop by for a cameo. By such accounts, I am a dork.
"Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story" is a mockumentary of the mostly improvised variety, with Corddry being joined by Paul Scheer, Dannah Feinglass, Rob Huebel, D.J. Hazard, and a continuously scene-stealing Rob Riggle, among others. Working off a story outline by Brant Sersen (who also directed) and Brain Steinberg, the cast would be filmed endlessly riffing, in character, on the scene at hand. It's a format Christopher Guest and his gang of regulars have perfected, and now this younger ensemble of improv experts give it a go. No, "Blackballed" isn't up to Guestian standards, but as a chance to see some very sharp comics goof around on camera for ninety minutes, this'll do the trick just fine.
The subject is paintball, with Corddry playing the title character, a once-disgraced paintball superstar who's returning to the game after a ten year exile. He's only able to assemble a bizarre team of also-rans: Scheer is a geeky paintball ref, Riggle is an angry conspiracy theorist/militia freak, Curtis Gwinn is a stoner video game pro, Seth Morris is a flaky Canadian hippie. They're out to win a regional tournament, but standing in their way is paintball's current big star, Bobby's former teammate (Huebel).
The key to getting this movie to work is in its affection for the very sport it's out to mock. "Blackballed" isn't mean-spirited in its jabs at paintball, but it does understand just how silly the sport can be, and just how silly its players can get when taking the game so seriously. I'll leave it up to the paintball experts to debate how much they got right or wrong about the sport; they seem to have gotten the details down, and if not that, then at least the spirit. The movie recognizes this is the story about the most important thing to ever happen to a bunch of people who are not actually doing anything very important - a fact capped off by having the entire backstory revealed to us with He-Man action figures.
So yeah, that's the kind of mockumentary we're dealing with here. It's not trying so much to pass itself off as real (don't bother wondering about the flimsy story - they sure aren't) as it is merely hoping to get a few belly laughs, which it does, thanks to a very impressive cast. Corddry gets some chuckles, but mostly his job is to play straight man to a gang of weirdos. Riggle gets points for being the most consistently funny (how is it he left "Saturday Night Live" after only one season?), while D.J. Hazard delivers the film's best lines (his answer to Corddry's off-the-cuff remark about the smell of donuts is priceless). With so much comic talent all in one place, "Blackballed" becomes a dopey but lovable gigglefest.
"Blackballed" was filmed on the fly over a series of available weekends, using digital video, the actors' own wardrobe, and whatever sets anybody could scrounge up. This is a truly low-budget indie offering, a labor of love with a "let's put on a show!" feel. After playing the festival circuit (including a popular, award-winning run at the 2004 South By Southwest Festival), the film disappeared, only to go on a cheap city-by-city tour as its only means of getting seen in theaters. Now it arrives on home video, where it's bound to find more than a few fans.
Oh, dear. The digital video transferred quite nicely, butů Shout! Factory didn't bother with anamorphic enhancement for the 1.85:1 image. What? Only the cheapest of cheap distributors go non-anamorphic anymore (insert Lucasfilm joke here), and Shout! is definitely not a bottom rung company. A major disappointment.
No problems with the stereo soundtrack. Sounds just fine. No subtitles are provided.
Two commentaries come our way, one with Corddry, Scheer, and Riggle, who, in between stretches of actually talking about the movie, try to one-up each other with comic absurdities about behind-the-scenes goings on (which gets tiresome at times, but hilarious at others, so it's a wash); the other with Sersen, Steinberg, and producer Chris Lechler, who take a more ordinary route in their conversations.
Twelve minutes of outtakes aren't really "bloopers" but unused improv sessions, little bits of raw nonsense that get pretty funny in spots, although it's easy to see why they were cut.
Three deleted scenes offer completely edited together moments of additional insanity. The first two aren't too impressive, not even lasting a full minute, but the third? Why, that one's so nuts it comes with its own disclaimer, warning that you're about to encounter eleven full minutes of single-take ad libbing, a bit in which Riggle just keeps going and going and going. It's priceless stuff, impossible to include in the movie but brilliant entertainment on its own. At the end, you can hear Corddry, out of character, telling the crew that he actually wet himself while trying not to laugh on camera.
"Bobby Dukes' Video Diary" is yet another deleted riff, a four-minute piece in which Corddry, in character, tells of his world travels. Not sure why this wasn't simply included in the deleted scenes section.
(All of the outtakes are presented in 1.33:1, with plenty of spare room on the top and bottom, suggesting the film was shot that way and cropped in editing, sort of a video version of open matte.)
Despite that ridiculous non-anamorphic issue, I'll still say this one's Recommended - would've been higher if given the proper 16:9 treatment. The movie and extras are worth it, despite the sloppy video presentation. This is Rob Corddry, people, and any fan of "The Daily Show" already knows he's become a name to trust.