Judge Eric Profancik was startled, shamed, and ultimately smitten by this story of the cutthroat world of paintball.
"Apocalypse is at hand!"
This DVD had my name all over it. It was practically screaming, "Judge Profancik, take me home! You must review me. I know you are an expert in this field, so you must have me." Knowing no better, I listened to the DVD—and here it sits in front of me, watching me type up this review. Why was this DVD up my alley? Why was it perfect for me? Seeing as it is a documentary about paintball, my extensive past experience made it a shoo-in. I've played paintball once, and, more importantly, I own Splaat Attack!. (If you don't know, look it up.) You see, it's the quintessential experience necessary for the story of paintball's darkest hour…
Facts of the Case
It's 1993, and Bobby Dukes is on the verge of winning another Hudson Valley Classic. It's down to him, his teammate, and one other person. Then the unthinkable happens: Bobby gets shot—and wipes the paint away. It's an unforgivable transgression, one that leads to Bobby's expulsion from the game and his exile from all he knew.
Ten years later Bobby's ban from paintball is lifted and he wants back in. He misses the game and wants to play in another Hudson Valley Classic. We watch as Bobby comes back to the town he loved and is shunned by almost everyone. Nobody will have anything to do with him, and Bobby's only hope to be in the tournament is to create a team of the misfits and outcasts of the game.
This is Bobby Dukes's story.
Maybe I should have looked at the packaging a bit more closely.
I'm sitting on my couch honestly excited to watch this story about paintball's pariah. One might find that odd—I certainly found it odd—to be excited about such a story, yet I was. After watching Splaat Attack, I have a small fondness for the game. I would love to play it again but the local course is a bit lame, in my humble opinion. As I'm watching the movie, I'm enjoying myself, but some of Bobby's old friends amaze me. I can understand them keeping him at bay and treating him poorly, but these people really were on the fringe of being over the top. Additionally, when Bobby met up with his ex-girlfriend, it unfolded like a cliché: she was on the phone, saw him, did a double take, hung up, and gave the shocked face one would expect in a movie. Thirty minutes later, I finally had the realization.
Maybe I should have looked at the packaging a bit more closely, for the joke was on me.
"Rob Corddry in Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story." "In"?
Let's flip the packaging over…"Improvisational tour-de-force"—The Boston Globe
Slap my forehead. You idiot, it's not a real story! Duh! It's a comedy, à la Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. This isn't a documentary. There's no Bobby Dukes. This never happened! It's all a farce, a comedy movie. Wow, it took me thirty minutes to catch on to the joke. It was just believable enough to keep the hook in my mouth for that long. I hang my head in shame.
Perhaps the first question wanting to escape your lips is, "But, Eric, as a silly liberal, don't you watch The Daily Show? Didn't you recognize Rob from the show?" And the answer is, no; I don't watch The Daily Show so I have no idea who Rob is. (In a funny coincidence, I watched The Daily Show for this first time after watching this DVD and saw Rob. Not sure if he's in every episode, but I finally made the connection.)
Now that I was finally getting the joke, all these people and situations made more sense. They were over the top because they're just characters—good characters, at that. Blackballed is the funny version of Dodgeball, and I'm delighted to have made the error and requested the disc. Filled with enough realism and silly situations, this movie is a humorous and gentle escapade with another niche sport.
What makes the movie better is the fact that the majority of the scenes are improvisation. There was a general outline for the movie, but the actors improvise to get from point A to point B. You would not know this movie was made up as they went along. It's a solid effort with everything flowing cogently, interesting interactions, lots of jokes, and an enjoyable arc for Bobby and his "Rounds."
Most of the actors in this movie shine. They are skilled comedians and make the movie come alive, but I want to give a special mention to two in particular: Rob Corddry and D.J. Hazard. As the star of the film, Rob embodies Bobby with the perfect mix of bravado and humility. He's come full circle from brash star to seasoned adult. Rob carries the film, grounding every scene, making you believe that there is a real Bobby out there somewhere. Bobby is now the mentor to his misfits, as D.J. used to be Bobby's. D.J. plays Bill Henry, the owner of the Hudson Valley paintball course. He's a firm believer in Bobby, and is the only person openly glad to see him back. Beyond all that, the direction D.J. took Bill in is amazing. He gives a performance full of gusto. Better than that are the amazing quirks he gives his character, yielding a cornucopia of quotable lines. If you don't love Bill, then you're Canadian. Bill needed more screen time.
All in all, Blackballed is an outstanding improvisational effort yielding an engrossing and entertaining comedy.
Not only was I confused about the movie, I am still confused about the video transfer. I dug and dug and dug but I could not find the official ratio specifications for this title. Hence, I used my best deductive skills (which are obviously in question after believing this was a true story) and came to the conclusion that this is a letterboxed full-frame print. (I know some of you don't believe there is such a thing as letterboxed full frame, but I've stumbled across several of them this year—and that's what those studios call them!) Whether it is full frame or another aspect ratio, though, the video is crystal clear. The colors are precise and bold, with rich blacks, and excellent sharpness, contrast, and details. I was surprised to see a bad instance of artifacting during the Rounds' first practice session, but I didn't notice any more past that point. On the audio side, the Dolby Digital 2.0 track doesn't have any errors and gives you clean dialogue without any distortion.
This DVD doesn't end with a funny movie, and you get quite the bang for your buck. You are treated to not one but two commentary tracks, one from the cast and one from the crew. The cast commentary includes Rob Corddry, Paul Scheer, and Rob Riggle. These guys give a joke-filled, goofy talk that flows off the movie but doesn't provide much information about the movie. The crew commentary includes Brant Sersen (writer and producer), Brian Steinberg (writer and producer), and Chris Lechler (producer and editor). These three do talk much more about the movie, also in a lighthearted fashion. For some reason, I was not especially entertained by either commentary. Next up are outtakes (12 minutes, 19 seconds). These feel more like deleted scenes than goofs because of the improvisational nature of the movie. Then we have three deleted scenes (14 minutes), and lastly there's Bobby Dukes's Video Diary (4.5 minutes). Again, while the movie was humorous and enjoyable, none of the bonus materials caught my fancy.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For an independent, improvised comedy, Blackballed is a nicely crafted ensemble piece. But it's not perfect. It does have its slow moments, and some characters are not wholly believable (e.g., Bobby's ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend). Perhaps the most distracting aspect of the movie is the character of Eddie Reynolds (Rob Riggle, Arrested Development). Eddie is consistently over the top, too aggressive, and too dumb. His first scene is the one that finally opened my eyes to the movie's being a farce, so, considering how dumb I was here, you can infer how absurd he must have been.
Let me sum up by repeating an earlier statement. Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story is what Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story wanted to be: funny. Blackballed gives you a situation that feels believable, a main character you can root for, and a story that doesn't try to be slapstick. It'll never receive a tenth the praise or box office of Stiller's film, but Blackballed is ten times better. Nonetheless, recognizing it as the niche, oddball comedy that it is, I'm only going to give this one a rental recommendation.
Blackballed: The Bobby Dukes Story is hereby found not guilty of wiping.
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