Lionsgate // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 29th, 2010
Basketball as an underground blood sport.
Take some Hoosiers, mix in elements of Bloodsport, flavor it with a pinch of Ong Bak and you get...? I have no idea but I'm pretty sure I love it.
Tai is popped out of lock-up by a mysterious benefactor and he discovers that his twin brother Tan is lying in a hospital bed, the victim of a head injury sustained playing the newest extreme sport. Fireball is an unholy combination of no holds barred pit fighting and playground hoops.
Determined to avenge his brother's injury and maybe scrape together some money to spring for an expensive operation that might help bring him back, Tai takes on Tan's identity and rejoins his Fireball team. Now all he has to do is to make it to the final round alive.
I love basketball. And I love brutal action movies. So just by that calculus alone I love Fireball. It rarely makes sense and when the script does manage to find some traction in the land of coherence, there's nothing you haven't seen before. But once these guys got on the Fireball court and started throwing down, brother, I sat gobsmacked at the insanity of what unspooled before me.
I've seen a lot of strange movies in my time, but very few have confounded me more than this. The very premise of Fireball is ridiculous and my first instinct had been that this was going to be some kind of Shaolin Soccer spoof movie. Basketball? Muay Thai? Comedy, right?
Wrong. Fireball is a hard-R action movie and one of them most brutal I've seen in a long, long time.
Here is how you win a game of Fireball:
1) Score a basket.
2) Render every one of your opponents unconscious or dead.
That's it. Once the basketball is tossed in, the fists fly and these dudes take a monster ass-whooping. Each match is successively more violent and Tan's team is systematically thinned out. As you can no doubt surmise if you have previously seen any movie about underground fighting, our hero will ultimately get a chance to square off with the villain who had wronged him (or in this case, wronged his brother -- hey, just like Bloodsport!) and that fight is simply stunning in its length and brutality. By then any semblance of basketball rules have been long tossed out, but, really, it's not like they made a difference before that point.
Which is why I was so flummoxed. Why, for example, are these guys dribbling the basketball? Are they really going to get called for traveling? There are dudes with pipes and knives running around for crying out loud! As for the the big fight at the end, the opposing team is referred to as psychopaths by our heroes' coach (why do they need a coach by the way? Is he having them run lay-up lines?!) and he mentions to a friend that he doesn't care if they win, he just hopes his guys get out alive. Hey, pal, if you're really worried about their health and winning isn't that big a deal, maybe just have them not risk getting horribly murdered.
In the end, who cares. Fireball isn't about the intricacies of the game's rules or Tai's quest for vengeance. It's about the beatdowns; and the action here is top-notch, unrelenting, progressively more volatile, well-choreographed and largely wire-free. Action movie fans will be rewarded with some shiznit they have never seen before.
Lionsgate has put together a decent DVD, starting with a clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and two 5.1 tracks, Thai and English dubbed (go with the original mix with subtitles). One extra: a behind-the-scenes featurette.
"Strong, bloody brutal martial arts violence throughout." That's what it says in the ratings box. And that's what you get.
Not Guilty. Swish!
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R