The best thing about sporting films is that the sport is irrelevant. Whether it be boxing, football against the Nazis, juvenile karate, one-handed bowlers, or even arm wrestling – the sport is irrelevant. It’s all about the underdog coming back against great odds to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Blackball is no exception, with the stage of championship lawn bowls being the irrelevant sport in the spotlight.
Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) is the bad boy of lawn bowls. He’s from the poor side of town, loud, obnoxious and thoroughly arrogant about his undeniable bowling skills. He practises on a bit of waste ground and can do an impressive targeting trick using a lawn bowl and a used condom. In short he is the antitypical bowling type and he’s the thorn in the Torquay bowling community. A community headed by prudish and uptight master champion bowler Ray Speight (James Cromwell), whose dislike for Starkey is not hidden in the least.
Speight is a man who believes in the tradition of lawn bowling and that the rules must be adhered to the letter. During a tournament Starkey manages to beat the reigning champion much to Speight’s immense anger. Unfortunately for Starkey, he is disqualified after a tiny misdemeanour is un-rooted by the bitter Speight resulting in a lifetime ban from lawn bowling.
However, it soon materialises that the public and American sports agent Rick Schwartz (Vince Vaughn) want more of Starkey. His sexing up of bowling with trick shots, tormenting the opposition and rallying up of the crowds is exactly what Rick is looking for. He never hides his working class background and in fact revels in it. Even after his ban, Rick manages to elevate Starkey into a national champion with flashy promoting and bad boy publicity.
Eventually when Starkey’s ego becomes a monster of its own, he starts to loose the things that are precious to him like his slobby best mate (Johnny Vegas) and his girlfriend Kerry (Alice Evans) who incidentally is also the daughter of his nemesis Speight.
Can Starkey regain what made him a hero back in Torquay before the international championships against the undefeated boys from Down Under?
Blackball is entertaining enough and will probably appeal to a home audience much more than an international one. Whether it will have the same USA success that UK films have had such as Bend It Like Beckham is doubtful as there are probably too many home jokes.
Performances are funny with Paul Kaye showing that under the irritating guise of celebrity tormentor Dennis Pennis lurks an entertaining actor. He plays Cliff Starkey with aplomb and seems to be enjoying himself tremendously. The ever dependable James Cromwell not only plays Ray Speight with class and conviction but manages to nail a British accent down to a tee. Johnny Vegas plays, surprise surprise, the slobby, loud, fat bloke sidekick. Alice Evans is good as the love interest but doesn’t have much to do till towards the end.
Director Mel Smith manages to entertain enough to keep the film funny, although some of the gags are a little predictable and the scriptwriter seems to have read Scriptwriters Guide to Sports Film Clichés.
Although based on a true story there has been some liberal truth-taking with the facts, but don’t let that detract from a funny UK film.
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