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STUDIO: Shout Factory
RUNNING TIME: 91 Minutes
• Commentary by cast members
• Commentary by filmmakers
• Deleted scenes
• Video diary
"Imagine Christopher Guest gone extreme!"
Rob Corddry (The Daily Show), and a host of Upright Citizens Brigade alums, including Paul Scheer, Rob Riggle, Dannah Feinglass, and Rob Huebel. Plus Corddry’s co-correspondent, Ed Helms.
Bobby Dukes was a legend, a master of the game of paintball, until that one fateful game in the championship tournament. He was rushing for cover when a marker caught him square on. He should have been out. Instead, Bobby Dukes betrayed his fans and followers: he wiped. He tried to hide the evidence, but a judge saw him. He was out, and banned from the sport for a decade.
Ten years later, he returns home a changed man, and ready to re-enter the sport that was his own. The only problem is no one will play on the same team with a former cheater. So Bobby assembles a group of misfits and outcasts to take on the corporate-sponsored champs and finally take an honest shot at the trophy.
"The circle is ka, Roland."
From the opening sequence in which Bobby Dukes’ famous cheat is re-enacted by He-Man figures, you know this is going to be a great movie, or at least ingratiating. If, for some reason, that’s the sort of scenario that would convince you that this will not be a great movie, then prepare to remain unswayed.
This is a geek movie, as you might expect from the presence of the Masters of the Universe, but it’s not that kind of geek movie. It’s more like The 40 Year-Old Virgin, in that every character is a geek after their own fashion. Rob Corddry’s Bobby Duke is a paintball geek; Paul Scheer’s Lenny Pear is something of an everyman geek; you’ve got your war geek and your video game geek and your yoga geek. Right about now, the word "geek" is starting to look a little funny. The point is that all the characters let themselves be defined by their hobbies, and so there’s little overlap in character boundaries, which helps to keep people distinct.
Unlike Judd Apatow’s stuff, Blackballed contains quite a bit of the spontaneous spirit of improvisation. This isn’t a heavily-scripted affair, a fact which has its pros and cons. On the plus side, none of the actors drop out of their characters even for a second, and the spontaneous laughs are the best ones. On the negative side, the laissez-faire filmmaking occasionally results in prolonged pauses, bumps in the narrative, and lapses in humor.
"Aren’t you a little short to be extreme?"
As I mentioned before, all the characters involved have their own distinctions. Corddry leads the charge as the "kid come back to town," playing into the Western trope of returning wanderer as much as possible. If anyone’s looking for evidence that Corddry has the talent to break through into larger film roles, Blackballed offers plenty. Just contrasting Bobby Dukes with Corddry’s blowhard character on The Daily Show ought to convince you the man radiates character. Listen for his pep talk to his team-mates before they take on a Canadian team. It’s a thing of beauty.
I’m convinced that he could have carried Blackballed all by himself, the same way Walter Matthau supported The Bad News Bears, but Corddry leaves plenty of room for the remainder of the talented cast to excel. In fact, Corddry doesn’t even get the best laughs in the film. Those mostly go to Rob Riggle, who plays a foul-mouthed, neo-Viking with a thirst for blood and vengeance. Everyone holds up their ends of the bargain, though, and every character gets at least one great memorable scene.
A boy named Soooo-eeeee-pig-pig-pig!
What makes most of those scenes so memorable is the straightness with which they’re played. It’s perfectly earnest — bolstered by the faux-documentary conceit — in its situations and characters, absurd though they all might be. The humor doesn’t succeed based on absurdity, though; it works — and as a result, the whole film works — because they’re absurd and perfectly realistic. None of this geek behavior is at all beyond the realm of possibility. The characters may not be as fully realized as those in other oddball movies, but they have their charms, they have their roles, and not one of them is wasted.
The devotion to the characters is evident in the final sequences, which take place at the paintball championships. Instead of harvesting the setup for easy humor, the filmmakers just let the games play out, with a natural tension that is worth commending. By this point in the film, a good deal of affection has grown for Bobby Dukes and his team, and if that’s not enough to keep you interested when the laughs come less frequently, then maybe the admirable editing and pacing of the matches will.
With the easygoing character work and simple plot, Blackballed is a modest film, even though it didn’t have to be. It could have easily gone over the top in terms of plot and characterization, but the filmmakers showed restraint. That’s part of its charm. It’s amazing how often small films with reasonable goals fall short of their intentions. I’m happy to report that Blackballed clears the mark with room to spare.
"Nineteen times I’ve tried, and I still can’t draw a fucking circle."
Not one, but two feature-length commentaries: one by Corddry, Paul Scheer, and Rob Riggle, and one by the filmmaking team of Brant Sersen, Brian Stienberg, and Chris Lechler. Both are easygoing sorts of tracks, heavy on the anecdotes and laughter. The cast commentary has a lot of the same spirit of improv as the film has, though once in awhile they actually tell the truth, and/or things related to the movie. For example, Corddry mentions that the introduction scene with the action figures was "added later because without it the movie made no fucking sense."
The filmmaker commentary is a little more workmanlike, talking about the technical and logistical problems of dealing with a bunch of nutcase actors, filming the sport, and generally creating a comedy and remaining within budget.
There’s also a lengthy outtake reel (outtakes — not bloopers), a video diary from Corddry in character as Bobby Dukes recalling his time in exile, and a set of three deleted scenes that could have easily been included in the film.