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Better than They Told You - 'BASEketball' (1998)

The poster seems to somehow both undermine and exemplify the film...
Universal Pictures

BASEketball (1998)


A large part of my childhood involved worshipping sport idols and making up stupid games to amuse my friends. BASEketball happily blends these two together for its collection of arrested-development dimwits, and it never fails to make me laugh.

In his youth, Joe "Coop" Cooper (Trey Parker) witnessed the World Series success of "Mister October" (Reggie Jackson, not Dwayne Zachemore) firsthand. Like many boys, he at that point swore he'd one day be a sports star. Two decades later, knocking on the door of his thirtieth birthday, Coop has downgraded that dream to owning a sports bar - equally unattainable as he has no job and no drive.

While crashing the party of a former high school classmate, Coop and his best friend Doug Remer (Matt Stone) discover that everybody has achieved some level of success except them. Dejected, they head to the driveway to drink and shoot hoops, something that Coop can do very well as long as it doesn't involve running, ball-handling or coordination. It's there a pair of jock-types challenge them to a game of two-on-two. Coop fires back that they should play a "cool new game" that "isn't like HORSE" at all. The jocks agree and Coop invents a game on the spot involving free throws, base running and distracting taunts.

Doug and Coop quickly and handily dispatch their opponents before a growing crowd, and it's then Coop realizes he might have struck gold. We see the game develop from a driveway diversion to a small but rapidly expanding independent sport. Bored tycoon Ted Denslow (Ernest Borgnine) offers to push the sport into the big time with funding and advertising. Coop resists because of his frustration with professional sports teams frequently screwing over fans by moving markets or trading away franchise players. Denslow swears none of that will happen under his watch, as he'd prefer to keep players the way they should be treated, like indentured servants.

The rest of the film unfolds around Coop's and Doug's struggles to keep their friendships, their team, and their fledgling sport going in the face of fame, money, jealousy and groupies. Peppered throughout BASEketball are rather deep sport reference inside jokes, gross out humor, stupid fun, and wit.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone shine as the leads. Their involvement has always been of interest to me because they were given no writing credits, and the release of the film so closely followed after the success of the first season of South Park. This raised a question of how quickly the film was made and whether it might have even preceded the Comedy Central hit. Having read some production notes from an unverifiable source, I have seen it suggested that director David Zucker happily incorporated the two into tweaking and sweetening lines during the production, noting how funny they naturally were.

BASEketball rips along at a brisk pace, never allowing you to feel bored and offering up satisfying payoffs for its setups early on in the film. The humor is often filthy, but those expecting otherwise from Zucker, Stone and Parker would be better off watching Davey and Goliath re-runs. It's a perfect movie to watch while drinking with your friends on a Saturday, and in my opinion one of the top five sports films of all time.

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