Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Celtic Pride" starring Damon Wayans, Dan Aykroyd, Daniel Stern


Until rewatching it for this blog, I hadn't seen "Celtic Pride" since it first came out in theaters. Back then, I was a regular attendee of Celtics games in Boston, and went to see the movie with a huge Celtics fan. He hated it because the Celtics lost (oh, sorry, SPOILER ALERT FOR MOVIE THAT CAME OUT 15 YEARS AGO), and I hated it because I thought it was stupid.

15 years later, I still think the movie is mostly stupid, but overall it wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered.

THE MOVIE


Score: 3 out of 5

Real NBA teams: Yes

Fictional NBA teams: No

Notable NBA players involved: Larry Bird, Bill Walton and Bob Cousy all play themselves, though obviously in non-playing roles.

Best basketball moment: Really, outside of seeing the old Boston Garden again, there really isn't much redeemable about the actual basketball in this movie.

Worst basketball moment: The horrible special effects needed to make it look like Aykroyd's spastic half-court shot during halftime of Game 7 somehow goes in.
Mike O'Hara (Stern) is a former high school basketball star who got injured early in his college career and now works as a phys ed teacher and lives and dies with the Boston Celtics. Jimmy Flaherty (Aykroyd) is a plumber, O'Hara's best friend, and a huge fan of all Boston sports, living vicariously through their great moments. They're die hard Celtics fans who also happen to be insanely superstitious, and possibly just insane. After watching the Celtics blow a 15-point halftime lead in Game 6 of the Finals against the Jazz, they find out that Utah's star player, Lewis Scott (Wayans), is partying at a local bar. They go down to the bar, where they get the idea to pose as Jazz fans to get him so drunk that he's too hungover to play well in Game 7. During their charade, they meet Larry Bird (their idol), who scolds them for being fair-weather fans. Despite this, they power forward and get Scott wasted.

The next morning, they wake up at Jimmy's apartment, hungover, and realize that Scott is with them. After messing with him while he's still passed out for awhile, they eventually kidnap him. After being told by one of their cop friends that it's kidnapping whether you hold a guy for a second or a week, they decide to hold on to Scott until after Game 7, so at least if they have to go to jail, they can help the Celtics win in the process.

While Scott is being held hostage, he shines a light on the pathetic lives the two fans lead, while they explain to Scott why they hate him so much (ballhoggery, his attitude toward the game, etc.). Scott tries to escape, but a cabbie refuses to help him, and the two fans catch up to him. He challenges O'Hara to a game of one-on-one, and in the process incapacitates his two kidnappers. Before he leaves them, he gives them an option: if they show up at Game 7 in Jazz colors and root for Utah, and the Jazz win, he won't go to the police. But if they don't, or if Boston wins, they're going to jail.

Mike and Jimmy show up at Game 7 wearing Lewis Scott jerseys, and explain to the fans around them that they're only "pretending" to root for Utah to jinx the Jazz. At halftime, Boston is up 14, and it looks like they're going to jail, until Mike yells at Lewis to start passing the ball, rather than trying to do everything himself. He does, and miraculously it works, and the Jazz get back into the game. He dishes off the game-winning assist at the buzzer, and Utah wins by a point, with Mike and Jimmy joining the team on the court to celebrate.

The movie ends with a scene seven months later, as Mike and Jimmy break into Deion Sanders's hotel room, presumably to kidnap him so he can't play in the Super Bowl.

THE REVIEW

Upon rewatching the movie, I was stunned to learn that it was a Judd Apatow film. He co-created the story, wrote the screenplay and served as an executive producer. It's obviously not as refined as his more popular work, but some of his influence definitely shines through.

Overall, the plot of the movie is completely implausible, and the basketball (which I'll get to in the next section) is even more unbelievable. Still, it's the scenes with Mike, Jimmy and Lewis at the apartment that make the movie work, at least better than it did in 1996.

When "Celtic Pride" came out, the NBA was experiencing an incredible run of popularity, thanks mostly to Michael Jordan. Fans loved Jordan, and he as least publicly gave the impression that he cared about them. Lewis Scott -- despite having some elements of Jordan (superstar who does most of his team's scoring) and Charles Barkley (his "I'm not a hero" commercial at the beginning of the movie is a direct knockoff of Barkley's "I'm not a role model") -- is really more representative of the NBA superstar from the post-Jordan early '00s era of the NBA. He was incredibly talented, but didn't seem to care on the court, and had an adversarial relationship with fans.


There were two particular scenes that really hammered that home. The first came shortly after Mike and Jimmy had tied Lewis up, and Mike had gone out to get some advice on what to do, leaving Jimmy alone holding Lewis at gunpoint. The kidnapped star, seeing how much Jimmy valued his memorabilia, went on a bit of a rant:
"It's pathetic. All these pictures of other people's achievements and what have you done? What's your claim to fame? You think Larry Bird has a picture of you on his wall with your hand down a toilet wrangling a turd? He doesn't even know you exist. And you MET him! You might as well take that gun and put it in your mouth and blow your brains out."
Now, obviously the words are different, but doesn't that sound a bit like, "All the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today."? Obviously Judd Apatow couldn't have been thinking of LeBron when he wrote "Celtic Pride", but he did a pretty solid job of pinpointing the ego of the post-Jordan superstar, and why many fans hate players like LeBron, or Allen Iverson, or Vince Carter or anyone who they perceive as wasting their gifts.

There's another exchange when they're discussing endorsements, and Scott says he does them just for the money, while Mike says he thinks Scott does them because he thinks if fans see him enough times on TV, they'll like him.

If the movie had spent more time on these scenes, and less time on the two games and the party scene, I think it might be remembered more fondly. Maybe even in different hands, it could have been a quality character exploration into the relationship between superstar athletes and blue collar fans, rather than a cheap slapstick comedy.

THE BASKETBALL

While some scenes were better than I remembered them, the basketball was much, much worse (and I didn't remember it being good anyway). Boston Garden is filmed in a way so that only the lower 10 rows of the arena are visible, making it clear they couldn't fill it with extras. The majority of the game action is shown either super wide or super close. It uses lots of movie magic to make it seem like Damon Wayans can ball, mostly by showing him pulling up for a shot, then cutting to the ball swishing through the rim, then cutting back to Wayans holding his hand up in perfect post-shot form. The close cuts on dunks are even worse, with Wayans -- likely jumping off a trampoline -- sometimes overshooting his mark.

They had to do this, though, because if they didn't, it would have been even more embarrassing. At one point, they actually show Wayans taking a runner/floater of some kind -- one that's supposed to miss -- and he gets three inches off the ground, maybe. The guy apparently had no vertical leap to speak of, and so they had to shoot all the basketball to mask that. Still, it's really, really hard to watch.

Lastly, I know it's a movie, and one in which interaction with two fans is obviously a big part, but Utah's coach (played by Christopher McDonald, a.k.a. Shooter McGavin), reacts to heckling way too quickly and too often. He snaps before tipoff of the first game we see, which would make sense if Mike and Jimmy's heckling had been building over the course of the series, but the first game we see is Game 6, which means we're coming off three straight games in Utah.

NBA EQUIVALENT

Multiple double-digit leads blown in the NBA Finals? The off-court narrative overshadowing the on-court action? A hated NBA star clashing with heckling fans? Who else could it be but the 2010-11 Miami Heat (during their five-game, crygate-inducing losing streak, obviously).

BETTER OR WORSE THAN A LOCKOUT?

Better, but much like a lockout, it'll make you wish you were watching quality basketball instead.

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