"Eddie" starring Whoopi Goldberg and Frank Langella


I decided to review "Eddie" back-to-back with "Space Jam" for a couple reasons. First, they were both released in 1996. Second, they both involve completely absurd premises that rely heavily on the viewer's suspension of disbelief. And third, and probably most importantly, they have disparate levels of acceptance among basketball fans, and I'd argue that most fans have the two movies reversed in terms of perception of quality.

THE MOVIE


Score: 3.5 out of 5

Real NBA teams: Yes

Fictional NBA teams: No

Notable NBA players involved: Malik Sealy, John Salley, Mark Jackson, Rick Fox, Dwayne Schnitzius and Greg Ostertag play fictional Knicks players. Many others appear as themselves.

Best basketball moment: The entire streetball game between Sealy and Gary Payton (playing an unknown streetballer).

Worst basketball moment: Ostertag's inability to get his warmup pants off when he enters a game. The scene is played for a joke, but goes on way too long.
Edwina "Eddie" Franklin (Goldberg) is a limo driver who spends pretty much every waking moment of her life obsessing about the Knicks. She has a closet full of Knicks jerseys, calls into radio shows, and has season tickets, which she uses to heckle Knicks coach John Bailey (Dennis Farina). One day, she's picking up a client at the airport, and it happens to be new Knicks owner "Wild" Bill Burgess (Langella). Of course, she starts talking about the team, and how they could be good if they did this that and the other.

Later, during a game in which the Knicks are playing horribly and most of the seats are empty, Burgess overhears Eddie's heckling from his owner's box, and decides to put her in the halftime "honorary coach" contest. She makes the free throw and gets to spend the second half on the bench. The few Knicks fans in attendance love it, and go crazy when she gets ejected.

Burgess is fed up with Bailey, and thinks he's overpaid, but learns that if he fires the coach, he has to keep paying him. So, he concocts a plan to get Bailey to quit, naming Eddie the honorary coach again before the next home game. The plan works, Bailey quits, and Eddie gets to "coach" the Knicks for a game. After the game, upon seeing his limited options for hiring a real coach, Burgess decides to offer Eddie the job full time.

At first, the team continues to suck under Eddie, as star Stacy Patton (Malik Sealy) continues his ball-hogging ways (at one point, he takes 38 shots in a game), Terry Hastings (Rick Fox) is distracted by his divorce and Ivan Radovadovitch (Dwayne Schintzius) struggles with both the English language and defense. Then, after another Knicks loss, Eddie runs into aging star Nate Wilson, who suggests that she try to relate to the players on a more personal level, rather than just thinking of them as "professional ballplayers". She does, and it works, sparking a turnaround that gains steam when Eddie benches Patton for Wilson.

The Knicks start reeling off wins, and Eddie becomes the toast of the town. She helps Hastings reconnect with his wife, helps Ivan learn English, and even gets Patton back on track by having his limo drive him to a street court, where he faces off against a street ball player (Gary Payton), who reminds him where he came from and not to waste his gift (with an assist from Patton's mother, of course).

Eddie gets the Knicks in position to make the playoffs, but the night before the regular-season finale, Burgess tells her that if they win, he's going to sell the team to a group that will move the Knicks to St. Louis. Eddie walks out of the meeting, and considers skipping the finale, but shows up at the last minute. In a close game against the Hornets (now coached by Bailey), the Knicks take a late lead, when Patton passes out of a double-team to give New York an easy basket.

During the ensuing timeout, Eddie walks onto the court and takes the PA microphone and announces Burgess's plan to the crowd. They get pissed, and join her on the court, along with players from both teams. Burgess comes down from his box and announces the Knicks will stay in New York. On the final play of the game, Larry Johnson drives for a lay-up, but runs into Ivan, who finally plants his feet and takes a charge, nullifying the basket. The Knicks win, and go to the playoffs.

THE REVIEW
It's easy to read the recap of the movie, or remember it from having seen it years ago, and criticize the absurdity of some of the scenarios. A fan becoming a coach? Some cowboy buying the Knicks, then trying to turn around and sell them later that same season? And not just sell them, but move them to St. Louis?! That could never happen!

Of course not. It's a movie. And it's a damn entertaining one, once you stop getting caught up in all the details. In fact, throughout the course of the movie, "Eddie" does a pretty good job of covering itself on its plotholes. Eddie isn't just some "random" fan. She has coaching experience. Sure, it's on the weekend rec league level, but they show her taking that role very seriously multiple times, which helps with the suspension of disbelief when she becomes Knicks coach. And it's easy to only focus on the "Wild Bill" part of Burgess's character, but they do a really good job of establishing him as a shrewd businessman, with subtle scenes like the review of the available coaches after Bailey quits.

In many ways, Burgess is Mark Cuban before we knew Mark Cuban existed. Sure, with Cuban it's easy to focus on the fines, and the yelling at the refs and the eccentric behaviors, but all that distracts from the fact that he's a brilliant businessman and something of a genius.

It also helps that the movie, overall, is just damn entertaining. The banter between Eddie, her players and other players throughout the league is well-written. It's easy to forget now, but there was a time when Goldberg was considered one of Hollywood's top comedienne's and while no one's going to put "Eddie" up there with her best work, her comedy chops definitely show in this movie (on a semi-related note, this is one of two Goldberg movies that came out in '96 that I think are drastically under-appreciated, the other being "The Associate". That still doesn't let her off the hook for "Bogus".).

THE BASKETBALL

As with most basketball movies, the percentage of baskets shown that are dunks is unbelievably disproportionate with what you'd find in a real NBA game, but other than that, the basketball scenes are really good. It helps that nearly everyone on the court in most shots is a real NBA player, including at times the entire Knicks lineup. The only major Knicks character who didn't play in the NBA was played by Vernel Singleton, who played with Shaq at LSU.

Even the streetball scene featured multiple NBA players, including Payton, and real-life Knicks John Starks, Herb Williams and Anthony Mason.

There were three small things that bothered me about the basketball scenes in the movie:

  • everything was filmed at Charlotte Arena, which was a piss poor stand in for Madison Square Garden
  • Mark Jackson's character wore #5, and it was just weird to see him in a Knicks jersey that wasn't #13
  • John Salley's character was supposed to be a past-his-prime legend, but because he was played by John Salley, I could never see him as anything but "John Salley-esque". Fortunately, that didn't hurt the narrative of the movie too much. 

NBA EQUIVALENT

"Eddie" is like the D'Antoni-era Knicks. It's not going to win anything significant, and it may not always be the best way to get things done, but damn if it isn't fun to watch.

BETTER OR WORSE THAN A LOCKOUT?

Much better. Though you do have to sit through some pretty awful mid-'90s NBA uniforms, which may have been the real cause of the last lockout.

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