South Park Collides With Airplane! in Boys’ Club Sports Comedy



With one venerable comedy style jogging along the first baseline and a newer blunt comedy style careening upcourt, 1998’s BASEketball couldn’t help but be doomed for a bad collision.  Directed by David Zucker, one third of the by-then long-scattered legendary triumvirate of Airplane! filmmakers Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker (“ZAZ”), and (for whatever reason) starring Trey Parker (as Doug “Swish” Remer) and Matt Stone (as Joe Cooper), the then-red-hot creators of South Park, this busy and cluttered sports satire promptly found itself in the critical penalty box upon release.  

The dry, anything-goes/rapid-fire gag bombardment of classic ZAZ and the sharp-stick-poke of outburst-laden South Park are, as one might’ve predicted, not two great tastes tasting great together.  One’s a sweet cider, the other a burst of strong whiskey.  Neither one is simply beer.  BASEketball, in every way it could be, is fixated on being beer.  No specific kind of beer- just, beer.  One would assume a quite light beer; about as pale as can be.  As in, “Gimmie a beer, bro!”  Or, “Gimmie a beer, bra!”  Or, “Gimmie your bra, beer wench!”  (Yeah… Just so that there’s no surprises about this movie that’s poster is two cocksure dudes in sports uniforms holding oversized baseballs you-know-where, this a good time to note that then-normalized now-squirm-inducing boys-will-be-boys sensibilities head up this very late-‘90s concoction.) (Gasp, shock and dismay!- Those cheerleaders are dressed as leather bondage vixens!  And those cheerleaders are in wet t-shirts!  Gasp, why I never!) (This is, like, social commentary on top of social commentary on top of sex, bro!  I mean, bra!  [Two-plus-decade-long pause…] For the sobering conclusion to these finer points of the Clinton decade and it’s American Pie cook-off, see the new Woodstock ‘99 documentary, Trainwreck).  They don’t serve class in a glass.  Not one with a handle, anyhow.

Despite that BASEketball has found for itself a fan following in subsequent years (but then, what hasn’t?), the film’s initial consequence (the critical penalty box) was not lacking in merit.  It’s the story of two ne’er-do-well grown-ass men (Stone and Parker) coasting along in a blind state of repressed adolescence until they, almost by accident, invent a popular new sport.  Or rather, in a rare off-the-cuff and kinda clever moment in their lives, they mash basketball and baseball together on their driveway- with a good dose of distracting, weird “psych-outs”- all in an attempt to outwit a few boisterous, gainfully employed, khaki-wearing preppies who get all the ladies.  Not unlike Butch and Sundance, a little bit of talent (they can effortlessly swish a basketball) and a whole lot of cultivating confusion over “the rules” nets a quick victory.  BASEketball is born.  Yay.

Before you know it, their new/not new game has hit the big time (complete with stadium fields resembling the original hoop-adorned driveway), with Stone and Parker heading up their own professional BASEketball team.  Their team’s name is the “Beers”, ergo a rife foregrounding of the forever-pairing of professional corporate athletics and the perpetually dumbed-down commercial beer industry.  And also, beer, man!!!!  But more than that……. it’s a sports story.  The stoooory of two lifelong friends whose bond is challenged when they stumble onto success in their stupidly popular game of BASEketball.  Here’s a dramatic clip:

Joseph R. Cooper: Who’s this guy?

Douglas “Swish” Reemer: He’s my entertainment lawyer. He’s helping me with my movie contract.

Joseph R. Cooper: Now you’re such a big shot you’re gonna act in a Hollywood movie? F-ing sellout.

Can their friendship sink any lower???  Can Douglas and Joseph manage to put aside their angrily calling one another “bitch” to re-attain their earlier status quo of lovingly calling one another “bitch”?  Or will they remain corrupt and angry and lose everything and never find true happiness and die alone?  Let’s go to color commentators Bob Costas and Al Michaels (yes, they’re really in this movie. A lot) for more exciting coverage…

Bob Costas: You’re excited?? Feel these nipples!

(That was the capper of the trailer)


Obligatory Plot Stuff:  In the not-yet-mentioned love story (because really, who needs it?), Yasmine Bleeth (Baywatch) runs a charity in support of terminally ill children.  One of them, little Joey (Trevor Einhorn), is a huge BASEketball fan.  Joe (not Joey. Matt Stone’s character) realizes that by taking part in making this kid’s Make-A-Wish come true, maybe he can get with Bleeth.  Meanwhile, evil capitalist Robert Vaughn, with trophy gal/heir Jenny McCarthy on his arm, keeps showing up in the movie looking to derail the whole BASEketball phenomenon, or whatever his dastardly plan is.  McCarthy’s wealthy father and league owner Ernest Borgnine kicks the bucket, which opens the whole thing to risk.  Before that, he had this to say about the other generation…

Now you kids with your loud music, and your Dan Fogleberg, your Zima, hula hoops and pac-man video games, don’t you see? People today have attention spans that can only be measured in nanoseconds!

From a comedy standpoint- and that’s the only standpoint that BASEketball operates from- that’s not a bad riff.  In the salad days of ZAZ, such an absurdist-blunt pronouncement would be allowed to be its own punctuation.  But not in this movie.  Here, director Zucker cuts to a flummoxed Stone mouthing “Dan Fogleberg?!?” to Parker.  Suddenly, in their need to hang a lantern, they’re coming off like the boisterous, khaki-wearing preppies.  And that’s not funny.

Trotting out an old Rush Limbaugh joke.

Although BASEketball was already released to Blu-ray by its home studio of Universal, Mill Creek Entertainment is now releasing it again, sans bonus features.  Also, the cover no longer features Jenny McCarthy.  Now, it’s just the old picture of the South Park guys holding their balls.  The A/V of it all is fine, if not a noticeable slam dunk.  Anyhow, if you’re in the market for a presumably inexpensive high-definition disc of this movie, here it is.  

Time and again, decent gags and bits get plowed to the foul line in BASEketball.  All parties involved, being the comedy legends that really are, should’ve known better.  Instead, BASEketball is a pastime as confused as its muddled game’s own rules.  Psych-outs abound, and some laughs do connect, but it’s all disproportionately baseless in the end.  Round after round of flat beer.