When I was a kid, I bowled constantly, taking part in a league that met every week. I had three or four different bowling balls, each a different weight and style. At one point, I even started taking lessons from pro bowler Bill Spigner and got a high game of 228 when I was 11. I never missed bowling on TV when it aired on ABC on Saturdays. The only thing I was missing was a pair of spiffy bowling shoes of my own.
However, in my teenage years, I moved further and further away from the sport. Not long after, audiences did, as well. Bowling stopped airing on Saturdays as audiences became less interested, and it seemed like the sport had found itself in decline. Audiences still had a certain opinion of bowling - that it was a bunch of overweight guys drinking beers - an image parodied in the Farrelly Brothers' classic, "Kingpin".
However, things started shifting back the other way when three Microsoft execs decided to buy the Pro Bowler's Association for the bargain basement price of five million. They brought aboard two Nike marketing execs and went about trying to revitalize a sport that had just about faded out. "League of Ordinary Gentlemen" gives a profile of both the sport and some of its most famous players, starting off with a compressed history of the game to catch viewers up to speed.
The players themselves are a varied bunch, from a 34-time pro with a physics degree (Walter Ray Williams Jr.) to a former legend searching for one more shot at the big time (Wayne Webb) to the "wild one" who once got suspended for poor conduct (Pete Weber). The new execs do have to work their way into the situation (one gives an intense speech early on, telling the players that they're in it just as much as they are. It's not profitable yet, but it could be - if they're not willing to push the sport, they can walk.) It's the players that are one of the core elements of the marketing push, and the documentary presents them not just as guys who go from town-to-town and from hotel-to-hotel. Many of them have families or other interests (one is a horseshoe champ.)
The doc follows a series of players along as they compete for a shot at the championships, and we do see the hurt as some of them - some of them who were counting on the potential money - don't make it into the final rounds. As things progress and filmmaker Christopher Browne keeps us right in the center of the competition, the final match - where two players compete for $120,000 - does boast a good deal of tension. The film does engage largely because Browne does a terrific job at introducing who these players are, and all of whom are interesting and/or sympathetic characters who we root for.
Bowling has successfully started to comeback, because it has figured out how to evolve and change. Some alleys have started changing the menu from things like burgers and fries to more elegant meals you'd find in a nice restaurant. Others are huge complexes that include pool tables, giant video screens above the alleys and other modern highlights.
Overall, "League of Ordinary Gentlemen" is a very fine effort that looks into the lives of the players, the drama of the sport and how a once-popular social sport finally finds itself making a comeback after it'd spun off into the gutter.
VIDEO: "League of Ordinary Gentlemen" is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This screening copy offered a very fine presentation, save for a few minor flaws scattered about. Sharpness and detail are acceptable, as the picture appeared crisp, but was a few steps short of looking crystal clear - likely due to what I'm guessing are low-budget cameras used.
Aside from a few minor traces of pixelation and a moment or two of light shimmering, the picture quality appeared perfectly adequate for the material. Colors looked natural, with only the slightest bit of smearing in a couple of darker scenes.
SOUND: The documentary is presented in stereo, and the audio remained crisp and clear throughout, with no hiss or distortion.
EXTRAS: This review copy did not have any special features. Announced extras - although subject to change - include deleted scenes, trailers/tv spots, a tips featurette and PBA clips.
Final Thoughts: "League of Ordinary Gentlemen" takes a compelling, entertaining and occasionally tense look at an underdog sport trying to make its way back to where it once was. Definitely recommended for casual or hardcore fans of the sport.