Blackball

Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts

Starring: Paul Kaye, James Cromwell, Johnny Vegas, Alice Evans, Bernard Cribbins
Director: Mel Smith

Yay! A Brit comedy that’s actually funny! Although Mel Smith’s comedies haven’t done that well to date he might finally have hit the nail on the head with this one, a cosy, unashamedly feel-good movie about…lawn bowls.

Not as dull as it sounds. This warm-hearted, witty comedy is so well done that it even manages to whip you up into a bit of a frenzy over a bowls championship – now that’s some feat.

Inspired by a real-life John McEnroe type bowls maverick who was banned for excessive swearing, this fictional story follows Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye), a guy from the wrong side of the tracks as he worms his way into the stuffy, geriatric Torquay lawn bowls club to become Devon champion, much to the chagrin of 23 times winner of the title Ray Speight. Issues are further complicated when Speight’s daughter Kerry (Alice Evans) falls for the young upstart.

After being suspended by the Torquay club for misconduct, he’s approached by aggressive US sports agent Rick Schwartz (an excellent Vince Vaughn), who enters the scene like a matrix-kicking guru seeking to maximise Starkey’s potential by turning him into the ultimate ‘bad-boy’ sporting hero, unintentionally sexing up the game of bowls (not normally something you would read in the same sentence) in the process. But will Starkey lose sight of what’s most important to him?

Kaye grows into his character well and is hugely engaging in the lead role, like a young, more coherent Ozzy Osbourne, with the brilliant Johnny Vegas basically playing himself as Starkey’s best friend Trevor, and cameos from a multitude of comedy names from Tony Slattery as a referee to Aussie comic Mark Little to Angus Lochran (‘Statto’ for those who remember Fantasy Football League).

The screen is packed with familiar comedy and TV faces at any one time and the film is well paced and the script tightly, and wittily, written, helped by some great central performances and excellent one-liners.

However I did feel that Evans’ character Kerry suffered from being slightly underwritten – she was laden with some quite awkward and leaden lines at times and seemed a little bland compared to the larger than life personalities of some of the other characters.

And I’m wondering whether it was a coincidence to feature over the end credits Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel’s Make Me Smile (Come up and See me), the song also used to similar effect not so long ago in the hugely successful THE FULL MONTY.

6 out of 6 stars

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