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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Eleven Men Out
Eleven Men Out
Heretic Films // R // March 4, 2008
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by David Cornelius | posted April 8, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Róbert I. Douglas' comedy "Eleven Men Out" is told with such a dry, restrained sense of humor and slow pace that it seems the filmmaker was aiming for a genuine portrait of Icelandic life. Why, then, does nobody here behave in a realistic manner? Here are characters that, as Douglas and his cast create them, resemble genuine people except for, you know, everything they actually do or say.

Consider the opening scene. After winning another soccer match, football superstar Ottar Thor (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) is upset to learn that his athletic accomplishments aren't enough to land him on the front page of the papers. And so, in a completely off-the-cuff attempt at one-upsmanship guaranteed to make him a cover story, Ottar gathers his teammates and, in front of the reporter, reveals that he's gay.

Ottar's nonchalance over the whole thing makes it seem like a prank, but no, he's serious. But we never learn how long he's been keeping this secret, and we never believe why he chose this moment to come out. (Even less believable is the reporter's response: she shrugs, quips that he's got his cover story, then walks off without asking a single question.)

Later, we learn why Ottar remained closeted for so long: his father (who also coaches Ottar's team) and brother are both rabid bigots, truly hateful twits quick with a slur and an insult. In fact, everyone in Ottar's life seems to be proudly vocal in their homophobia, so it's easy to see why he'd keep his sexuality quiet from these people. Why, then, would he be so nonchalant in his big announcement? Why would he not hesitate a single moment before making what he must certainly understand to be a life-changing statement?

The answer, frankly, is that writer/director Douglas is more concerned with premise than with character. Which is strange, since he spends so much time on small, intimate scenes between the people in Ottar's world, listening in on their conversations, studying their behavior. But Douglas is barely scratching the surface, preferring to deal in sitcom-shallow situations.

Indeed, Douglas never fully examines Ottar's life. Sure, we get scenes of his son being grossed out by dad's new gay romances, but these scenes deal in lazy stereotypes and lazier soap opera antics. A subplot involving Ottar's beauty queen ex-wife brings up plenty of questions (most notably: they still seem to have a thing for each other, and indeed do hook up, albeit drunkenly, midway through the picture), yet Douglas can't put the effort into fleshing out the characters and their issues. He treats his characters as story pawns, nothing more.

The leisurely plot ultimately kicks into gear as Ottar kicked off his professional team. He finds a new home on an amateur squad, and when all the straight players jump ship and gay players sign up in hopes of finding a more tolerant place to play, the group becomes known around Iceland as the gay team. They rack up a decent record, but only because of the high number of forfeits - nobody wants to play a bunch of queers.

Sadly, the movie itself doesn't reach any deeper than the basis of that synopsis. Douglas, borrowing heavily from the similarly-themed German comedy "Guys and Balls," takes every scene at face value, assuming the broad social commentary will be enough to fill in the gaps. And he even settles on that limpest of sports movie clichés, the Big Final Game, and against Ottar's old squad, no less - which the filmmaker then sets during the city's Gay Pride Day, just to help underline all of those Important Messages.

Oddly, despite containing most of the elements of the genre, "Eleven Men Out" doesn't qualify as a sports movie, because in what can be considered a cruel joke on Douglas' part, we never see any football action at all, except for some light kicking during practice. The opening shot is a tease (and one of the few smart moments in the film): credits play out as we see a soccer match, but only half the field, the half where nothing's happening outside of a bored goalie standing around, waiting.

As wicked humor goes, the constant denial of sports scenes in a sports movie is undeniably clever. But why does Douglas bother? He could have told the same story without having to intentionally work around the games, without having to include all the formulaic bits about the team climbing up the rankings and the Big Final Game and all that other nonsense. Douglas' joke ends up being merely clever for clever's sake, while still allowing him the cheapness of cookie cutter plotting.

And all that cheapness undercuts the movie's more commendable themes. Douglas' script never earns its feel-good finale (he has to haul in long shots of a pride parade to create emotional shortcuts), and there's so little follow-through on too many subplots that a lot of the gay-bashing that fills the first hour goes unpunished, leaving a sourness hanging in the air. For such a supposedly uplifting movie, "Eleven Men Out" rarely musters up the energy to actually do any of the uplifting.

The DVD

Video & Audio


The heavily grainy anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is cold and muted, perhaps adding to that sour, emotionally removed feel of the piece. The grain of the image seems to be a fault of the low budget source material itself, however.

The Icelandic soundtrack is served up in both Dolby 5.1 and 2.0, both of which are warm and full. I'm not sure we needed a surround track on such a talk-heavy picture (the only aural excitement is in the form of rock n' roll karaoke), but it does the trick. Non-removable English subtitles are provided.

Extras

Three featurettes produced by the news branch of the gay-oriented cable channel Here! are included, all of which feel more like PR sales pieces than in-depth news stories. (I assume these were originally produced to serve as on-air time fillers, during commercial breaks or in between programs.) Two of the pieces (5:00 and 4:03, respectively) offer brief looks at the Montreal Outgames and the Chicago Gay Games; the third (4:00) is a showcase on gay athletes. As fluff pieces go, they're moderately interesting but ultimately too superficial.

A set of production stills from the movie (1:04) plays out in slideshow format.

Finally, the American trailer for "Eleven Men Out" and a collection of previews for other titles from Here! Films round out the set. Some of these trailers also automatically play as the disc loads; a promo for Here! also plays, and you can't skip past it in any way.

All bonus materials (including trailers) are enhanced for widescreen TVs.

Final Thoughts

A too-thin dramedy with good intentions but poor results, "Eleven Men Out" is an unsuccessful attempt at studying the homophobia that remains present in professional sports. There are good ideas floating around this story, but the laziness of the overall project is frustrating. Skip It.
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