Consider this Judge Patrick Bromley's 2-minute warning.
Ten friends. One game. Two hand touch.
I should begin by saying that Turkey Bowl is exactly the movie that writer/director Kyle Smith intended to make. It's a small, incredibly modest slice-of-life (or slice-of-afternoon) that follows an annual touch football game between friends in real time. That's it. We don't get to know the characters beforehand. We don't follow them afterwards. We aren't really even concerned with their lives during the game. It's not the kind of movie where personal problems inform the game and the game helps solve personal problems. It's basically just a touch football game that's been filmed. Since that's what Smith was going for, I guess Turkey Bowl succeeds in achieving its goals.
But this is where matters of taste enter the picture, because succeeding on one's own terms does not always equate with succeeding as a movie. I like the idea of Turkey Bowl a lot more than I like Turkey Bowl in practice. I can appreciate that Smith made the movie he wanted to make, and perhaps even made the best possible version of that movie. But Turkey Bowl doesn't work for me, because it's more interested in defying expectations than having any kind of dramatic resonance. It feels more like a stunt. You can't believe the movie is really going to be nothing more than the ins and outs of a pickup football game, and that's what you walk away talking about. Never mind that we're not invested in the characters or their relationships, or that those things are barely fleshed out save for a few quick dialogue exchanges. Never mind that without caring about anyone, it's also impossible to care about the outcome of the game. There are no stakes. Normally, it might be okay that we're not concerned with who wins or loses, but the game is all Turkey Bowl has. Obviously, Smith has defied convention on purpose, but if he's going to break the rules he needs to make sure he's got something even better up his sleeve.
There are things to like about the movie. The performances are natural and likable, even if we don't really get to know any of the characters as people. Apparently, Smith cast a bunch of his friends to play versions of themselves, and while that adds to the whole laid-back, natural aesthetic, it also means I'm unable to name a single character or actor after having seen the movie (the only person in the movie I recognized was Kerry Bish from Ed Burns' Nice Guy Johnny). It's kind of impressive how the film has been put together, too; Smith does a good job orchestrating the game on camera and editing it together in such a way that it makes sense. And, unless it really was shot in real time (it wasn't), I have to give credit to the continuity person.
If nothing else, Turkey Bowl is inoffensive because it runs a scant 63 minutes total. Yes, that's right. This feature film is only slightly longer than many television dramas. By the time you realize there's nothing more to the movie than what you've seen for the first hour, it ends. That's smart, too, as it would probably have been impossible for Smith to sustain Turkey Bowl any longer. The movie is stretching it as it is.
Turkey Bowl arrives in a modest DVD (what else would you expect?) courtesy of New Video. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks very nice; it's bright and clean and appears devoid of compression or other digital artifacting. Only a standard 2.0 stereo audio track is offered, but it's more than up to the demands of the movie. The dialogue is clear when Smith wants it to be, as this is the kind of movie in which conversations overlap or can't always be heard. You know, like being at a real football game between friends. The only extra feature offered is a short collection of deleted scenes, which are difficult to discern from what got left in. It's that kind of movie.
It is what it is.
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