The concept behind genre parody movies is simple: Some movies have gotten so comfortable with proven tropes that they refuse to change, and parody makes fun of those clichés while simultaneously honoring them. And no genre of films deserves a well-done slap in the face more than sports films. Sure, you could find one or two short jabs in other movies, but there has never been a film that completely dedicates itself to lampooning the near-mythical reverence of the underdog sports hero in Americana. That is, until Fox Atomic released The Comebacks, which — come to think of it — still isn’t that film. But it’s an attempt, at least.
The Comebacks unfortunately stars David Koechner once again wasting his comedic talents, this time by playing Coach Lambeau Fields, the worst coach in the history of sports. To convey how bad he is, the opening montage shows that he is responsible for Bill Buckner, a NASCAR crash, and other crappy sight gags. He finally decides to retire, but his best friend and former assistant coach Freddie Wiseman (Carl Weathers, continuing the streak of “Arrested Development” actors wandering aimlessly through the comedy badlands), finds him and encourages him to take over the Heartland State University Comebacks, the team of losers, ragamuffins, ne’er-do-wells, and so on, that are desperate for a winning season. To complete the team, Coach Fields recruits such characters as Lance Truman (Matthew Lawrence, who has some potential to be funny) — a pitcher turned quarterback despite his inability to keep the ball in his hands — and Trotter (Jackie Long), an arrogant showboating player who is literally the nonexistent ‘I’ in “team.” As they make their way toward the (ugh) Toilet Bowl championship game, Fields struggles to keep them winning, while neglecting his rebellious daughter, Michelle (Brooke Nevin), and his loving but lonely wife, Barb (Melora Hardin).
There are a few marginally creative gags in The Comebacks. One is when Fields tells his team to stop studying and making good grades, reminding them that real football players skip school and build up their criminal records instead of sneaking out of drunken frat parties to study and eat Oreos with milk, as this team does. Another is the poke at “Friday Night Lights” (quite obviously the TV show), when the opposing team forfeits because of all the soap opera-like dramatics keeps them from making it to the game. And the “crack is whack and white don’t cover black” line, in context, elicited a chuckle. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention that the dirty, piggish male in me wants to note that I fully appreciate the inclusion of half-naked Barb and the Bend It Like Beckham parody, which included Jizminder Featherfoot (Noureen DeWulf) and her tendency to disrobe. So, thanks for that. I should also note, for the record, that there is a certain amusing irony behind the fact that this football film was written and directed by a man named Tom Brady, though this Tom Brady is the man responsible for the Rob Schneider magnum operas The Animal and The Hot Chick, and not the smarmy pretty boy who threw six touchdowns against the Dolphins yesterday.
And speaking of the Dolphins, now that I mentioned the marginally good, I should also mention the bad. As you’d expect, a lot of the jokes fall painfully flat, like the Radio analogue, iPod (Jermaine Williams), who calls an audible through the magic of the “iPod Shuffle.” And has any film ever benefited from a Dennis Rodman cameo? Morever, while there aren’t that many gay jokes, the ones that are included are put front and center, which doesn’t make them any less stupid. Word to the wise: Never, ever, ever see a movie featuring Nick Searcy dressed up as Cher, unless you like washing your eyes out with turpentine. Another problem with this film, and many of its more recent brethren, is that it horribly dates itself. Besides the iPod jokes, the movie panders to the attention-addled by only focusing on movies from the past six years, except for a Field of Dreams allusion that wasn’t even worth the trouble.
But here’s my biggest problem with the film: With the cast and crew that it had, if it had been played as a straight comedy, it would have been monumentally better. There was an occasionally good line in there, trying to keep its head above the ocean of shit it’s submerged in, desperately gasping for air before the next joke put its cruel boot into its face and pushed it down beneath the waves. But instead, they went for the easy one-liners and zingers, piling sight gag upon sight gag. It was like they couldn’t decide what kind of film they were going to go for: a gross-out comedy or a semi-serious take on sports films. Unfortunately, the filmmakers tried to balance the two and failed miserably.
I am sure everyone is quite familiar with the Scary Movie franchise, but how many of you remember a film called Shriek (If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th)? It was the actually the first horror movie parody to be made and released, but was pretty much relegated to late-night cable airings and rental-store bargain bins. While quite stupid and immature in its own right, it was much tamer compared to the later movie. Well, that is what The Comebacks is, only it managed to get a major studio release. It tries to be just as outrageous and wacky (for lack of a more generous term) as the current R-rated rulers of the roost, but it cops out at the last second. So, the end product is a film not even worth the energy it takes to launch invectives at it. Of course, when the inevitable Sports Movie is made with many more naked boobies and much worse jokes, we will rant and rave over how bad that movie is, and this film will already have been relegated to the dusty shelves of history, only brought up in discussions of “Didn’t they do this already?” For the sake of everyone involved, I sincerely hope so.
Claude Weaver III, aka Vermillion, is an unassuming college student who really should have been studying instead of writing this. You can corrupt yourself further at his blog, Vermillion’s Brain Receptacle.
The Comebacks / Guest Reviewer Claude Weaver III
Film | October 22, 2007 | Comments ()