At the last count there’s been over seven thousand nine hundred and thirty eight sporting underdog movies, and though back in 2003 there were about two thousand less it’s hard to imagine why anyone would ever have thought that a film concerning the very British and very dull sport of lawn bowls would be worth watching, and unfortunately the finished result proves them right as Blackball is one of the most tedious and banal of comedies I’ve ever seen.
Lacking any originality (with the story depressingly based on a very bland true story) this is basically Rocky set on a bowling green, and with jokes which revolve around profanity and toilet humour. Sometimes that can be fun if done well but there’s absolutely no imagination shown here, and it’s irritating stuff indeed as Paul Kaye plays Cliff Starkey, a local Torquay lad from the wrong side of the tracks but with a love of bowls which is supposed to redeem his weaker points – like his inability to say anything funny, ever.
After winning a local tournament, but then being banned from playing again, the local press pick up on the story, and soon an agent appears on the scene with promises of fame and fortune and it’s not long before Starkey is in the England Bowls team. I would go on, but well, it’s all so predictable that I’m sure you can guess how it all ends anyhow, and sadly that’s not that they all died in a horrendous bowls related accident.
Paul Kaye’s developed over the years in to a fine character actor but here he’s uncharismatic and frustratingly egotistical, and one of the biggest problem’s the movie has. Self obsessed and annoying from the beginning, his transition from local yob to the bad boy of bowls sees his character becoming even more unlikeable, you’ll find yourself praying for time when he’s not onscreen, but alas this rarely happens.
As annoying as Kaye is the film’s biggest problems however are its lack of any originality in the story, and the absence of amusing jokes in the script. Sure, Blackball isn’t particularly hideous in any way, and not outwardly offensive, and there are a couple of gags which will make you smile if not laugh (Kaye coming on to the bowling green as a brass band plays the theme from Rocky being the best of these), and Johnny Vegas and James Cromwell make the best of severely underwritten roles. But it wastes its potential in an incredibly frustrating manner, it has a mostly great cast, including some fun cameos, and Mel Smith has proven to be a strong comedy director in the past, but this is the very definition of by the numbers nonsense, and when I saw it at the cinema I struggled not to walk out as it was so depressingly poor.
Blackball was written by Tim Firth who was also behind Calendar Girls, a film which was released the same week, and it’s a sad state of affairs where such scripts received funding when they were so trivial and mundane matters, while many a far more talented writer or comedian has struggled to make a movie over the years. At least the British public eventually tired of him and he hasn’t made a film for over eight years now, and I hope that doesn’t change as Blackball and much of his other work is British cinema at its most pointless and unadventurous.