This laziest of lazy loser comedies, made manifest through comedian Artie Lange's Howard Stern-aided celebrity, repped Lange's potential leap to greater fame. The movie flopped, bringing in under 500k at the box office, which is probably good, because movie star Artie probably would have quickly turned into dead Artie. (For more on this, if you're not familiar, read Lange's Autobiographies detailing his battles with addiction, etc.) But is the movie, and this Blu-ray release, any good? Long story short, if you like loser comedies, absolutely you should Rent It, Artie Lange cultists will probably find this nominal upgrade Recommended if they don't already own the earlier Blu-ray release.
Beer League is a spectacularly lazy, knockabout comedy firmly set in the New Jersey world of goombahs and Mets jokes. Lange stars as Artie DeVanzo, an unemployed-by-choice ‘regular guy', an alcoholic who lives with his mom, and expresses mild interest in ‘beer league' softball and the local skank Linda (Cara Buono). When Artie's softball team suffers continual humiliation at the hands of local business leader Mangenelli's team, he must decide if he wants to put the bare minimum of effort in for once in his life, and win the damn beer league tournament or something. (And maybe ‘get the girl' too.)
At the risk of being labeled a PC snowflake and all, Beer League is just another in a decades-long line of ‘white guy loser wins redemption' movies. I get why such movies are made, and Beer League is mostly hilarious, a pleasantly stupid ride buoyed by Lange's natural charm, but, well, I'm getting tired of the narrative. (And as a white guy loser in need of redemption, that's saying something.) Full of casual racism, misogyny, and homophobia, Beer League plays the "no offense meant" card well. I can't imagine anyone getting genuinely offended, especially since all the jokes adequately express the ‘I kid because I love' affable give-and-take of Jersey guys just breaking each others balls for fun, but narratively, the movie does nothing new to the Joseph Campbell ‘The Loser With a Thousand Faces' archetype.
Scattered throughout the movie are dozens of great put-downs; "you're an unemployed drunk. You play softball in corduroys" Manganelli (Anthony DeSando in a delightfully fierce turn) tells Artie before a game. Ralph Macchio as Maz (the intellectual touchstone of the movie) adds value as a centering dose of reality, even while delivering to Artie (in a way) the best laugh-line of the movie during his bachelor party. But then uninspired plotting takes over, as [SPOILER ALERT] Artie manages to miraculously whip his team into playoff shape over the course of one afternoon, and win redemption not due to dedication, not due to hard work, not even due to some form of mental or spiritual awakening, but just because he's kind of lovable[/SPOILER].
Beer League is the cinematic equivalent of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which debuted a year before). Its relaxed plot and pacing leaves little to hold on to other than a bunch of racist and sexist zingers, among other often-hilarious, less offensive jokes. It's all meant in good fun, and seems a pretty realistic portrayal, in a way, of Jersey man-boys, but as a ‘loser who wins redemption with zero effort' movie, it does little to excite the mind. As an Artie Lange vehicle, it's consistently funny, but will disappear from memory in the same way what you did while drunk the night before wafts away on a fetid breeze of stale cigarette smoke Sunday morning. Recommended(?)