If you've followed comedian Artie Lange's ups and downs on the Howard Stern Radio Show, you already know that he's a slovenly, punchline-friendly, "one of the guys" guys, cursed with an addictive personality that could make Tony Montana blush. So, it's appropriate that Lange's leading man debut would be a motion picture about a gang of blue-collar Jersey knuckleheads who prize only one thing higher than their summer softball league: booze.
Artie DeVanzo (Artie Lange) is a 35-year-old unemployed doofus who drinks too much, can't keep a girlfriend, and lives with his enabling mother. He spends his days with his friends (including Ralph Macchio and Seymour Cassel) in their softball league, where losing is their daily bread. When rival Mangenelli (Anthony DeSando) works out a wager to have them thrown out of the league of they can't finish first, Artie rallies the troops and pushes his team to think victory for once in their pathetic lives...after some shots and smokes.
"Beer League" doesn't try to pretend to be anything of quality; it simply wants to make the audience laugh. It's a smutty comedy that throws jokes against the wall at a frightening speed, hoping at least 75% of them will stick. The good news is the laughs are there. Writers Lange and Frank Sebastiano (who also directs) keep the film as lowbrow as it can limbo, hustling racial, homophobic, and sexist jokes into the script with an unexpected amount of fearlessness. "Beer League" is not for tender ears, but more for the beer-bellied, rascally rule breaker in all of us, and most importantly, there's a great chance something in here will make you laugh.
Sebastiano conjures up a familiar sense of summertime brotherhood; the leisurely feeling of playing ball with the guys in a neighborhood park. He doesn't have much, if any, money to work with here, but the director manages to grab the right spirit for the film. It's filled with hateful, raunchy material, but doled out with almost a kindness to it that lesser productions often ignore. Lange and Sebastiano are writing about their friends and communities (the New Jersey jokes fly fast and hard in this film), and that sense of place and time is conveyed rather well.
That's not to say the film is always a laugh riot. I'm disappointed that the production is so willing to give into clichés at every turn. The last 30 minutes of the feature have Artie breaking up with his girlfriend (Cara Buono, in a nice performance), a member of the team dying, and a big game for a suspenseful closer. From the first half of the film, we know already that Lange and Sebastiano are smarter than this labored structure, and the flow of the picture is disrupted when the script stops the fun to tend to needless plotting and unreasonable grabs at sympathy. I mean, seriously, the boys even sell the old prostitute-shoots-ping-pong-balls-out-of-her-vagina bit with some freshness (her stage name is "Pitching Machine"), why claw at dated and tired formula?
"Beer League" is presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix. Dialogue and soundtrack selections sound crisp and clean, but the film was assembled for very little money, so don't go expecting a richer sound field.
The film is given an anamorphic widescreen, 1.85:1 transfer. Again, the movie had no coin to work with, so the picture accurately represents the limited goals of the cinematography. The coloring is thin, but stable, and the rest of transfer doesn't bring down the house, but isn't horrible for a fringe title.
The fun begins with a feature-length audio commentary from Artie Lange and Frank Sebastiano. Considering the rowdy nature of the film, these two sit down for an unexpectedly calm track, casually trading stories about the making of "Beer League," and even touching on a few of the critical responses that drove Artie nuts. Some highlights:
- From the "better to not imagine it" file: Artie auditioned for the Milton role in "Office Space."
- Scott Baio was up for the Mangenelli role in "Bear League," but was rejected. To add insult to injury, he had to audition for Lange and Sebastiano. Ouch. It's hard to be Chachi these days.
- "The Simpsons" and general television legend Sam Simon punched up the script for free.
- Amazingly, this commentary almost becomes a track for the 1998 film, "Dirty Work." Both participants were involved in the making of the picture, and bring up several stories from their time on the set.
- Artie shot the film while holding down his morning gig on the Howard Stern Show. It almost killed him.
- At one point, Sebastiano chastises a gag by calling it "too jokey." This from a motion picture that has a character swatting the aforementioned vagina-powered ping-pong balls with a huge rubber dildo. I'm not sure there's anything "too jokey" after seeing that.
"Beer Goggles Short" is a faux commercial for plastic swim goggles that will make any member of the opposite sex look ripe for the picking after a night on the town.
"Beer League: Behind the Scenes" is a very slack and disorganized 20-minute peek at how the film was made. Bizarre interviews with the cast and crew are interspersed throughout, along with a healthy amount of on-set footage.
"Live from CineVegas!" is a five-minute look at the "Beer League" premiere at a Las Vegas film festival. The highlight is a visibly smashed Artie stumbling through an introduction while trying to please Stern fans with show catchphrases.
"Artie Behind the Scenes on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live!' and 'The Best Damn Sports Show'" follows Artie as he promoted "Beer League" on television programs that fit the blue-collar/frat house vibe of the film. Artie, now 150 pounds heavier a year after shooting the film, staggers through both sets in a sleepy, unwashed, sugar-snack haze.
"In the Studio with Artie: Jokes and Ringtones" takes the viewer into a recording studio, where Artie is laying down some of his favorites jokes and completely awful ringtone messages to help drum up publicity for the "Beer League" website.
"Raw Interviews" contains 20 minutes of cast and crew conversations.
The "Beer League Photo Gallery" is accessible here, and the "unrated" trailer is included.
"Beer League" is not a feature film that will appeal to all audiences out there, and while Artie Lange can sling a one-liner with the best of them, his acting leaves much to be desired. Still, this is a scrappy low-budget comedy that tries harder than most similar endeavors, and it has a refreshingly unique voice about it that easily overcomes the dud bits scattered throughout. For any supporter of bawdy cinema on a budget, "Beer League" could be considered something of a treat if you bring your standards all the way down.
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