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A Review of "Balls Out" (2015)

Here's something way too self-aware and kind of depressing.  What little I have to say today about Balls Out has been said already by way more popular critics, podcasters, and bloggers.  The 15 or so views this post is likely to generate are probably going to be from people who, like me, already know the back story of the movie.  In other words, I'm almost certainly not going to reach the audience that should hear this message, just as the movie is not reaching its target audience.

But just in case one of those 15 views comes from an anonymous surfer on Amazon's Prime video library who might have second thoughts about a crappy poster....

The short story is this.  Some filmmakers got funding from Kickstarter and made a silly sports comedy called Intramural.  It should have been marketed to fans of other low-budget nonsense comedies like Mystery Team.  But instead, MGM - who bought the film in order to distribute it - changed the title to Balls Out and slapped together one of those generic shitty comedy posters:

And now the movie appears on streaming sites everywhere in the same sub-categories as third-rate American Pie Presents fiascos.  The poster looks like a steaming pile of shit.  It looks like the kind of anti-comedy, Seltzerberg & Friends garbage that makes me question if American humor might actually be dead.

If it wasn't for the fact that I knew the marketing change ahead of time, I would have glossed over Balls Out and never even considered giving it a second glance. That's truly a shame, because I am the movie's target audience.  Not just because I'm a white male in the 21-39 age bracket - I mean that it's made for me, specifically.  It's for people who like character-driven nonsense / improv comedies where the jokes aren't mean-spirited and non sequiturs flow like water.

And that brings me to the saddest part of this tale of crappy marketing.  Balls Out is ultimately just kind of an average movie.  It's got some really fantastic bits here and there and the cast is terrific, but the movie as a whole is nothing special - nothing I'm dying to recommend.  Which means that a movie that was already going to be somewhat glossed over is now doomed to die a second death at the altar of shitty titles.

So I'm writing today mainly just in hopes that I reach anybody who's not aware so the movie can get a fair chance.  If it's going to die, so be it, but it let die for the right reasons.

And now, on with a brief summary of what I liked and didn't:

On the plus side, the movie is mostly hilarious.  The few gags don't work are inoffensive groaners, and more often than not, it's really funny.  Balls Out plays with cliches in one of my favorite ways: by scrutinizing their reality and taking them to a logical conclusion.  A quick example: the main character catches a stray football while walking across his school campus, and this chance encounter leads to him meeting up with an old friend.  Said old friend then explains that he just randomly throws the football at people to see what they'll do in order to strike up a conversation.  Said old friend is an asshole.

Importantly, despite characters frequently acting like assholes, none of the humor is mean-spirited.  That's a crucial reason I enjoyed this whereas the other shitty comedies it is being lumped together with are typically so abysmal.  It's the difference between a joke about racism and a racist joke.

Unfortunately, the movie also has a lot of downtime where it's settling into a traditional coming-of-age story.  This is where it gravitates toward mediocrity and drags a bit too much.

The worst part of this movie might be Jake Lacy, the lead.  And I say that as respectfully as somebody can say "you're the worst part of a movie."  Lacy is a charismatic, handsome, likable dude who was used to perfection in Obvious Child.  In Balls Out, he is a perpetual straight man, doomed to spend the whole movie reacting and never really getting a chance to show his comic chops.  It's an important role, but since his storyline is one of low-key panic and restrained desperation, he basically acts like he walked in from another movie.  Balls Out ends up having these abrupt tonal shifts between a crazy nonsense comedy and a lighthearted coming-of-age dramedy.

Overall I think it's worth a watch - or at least a second look if you've scrolled past it on your streaming site of choice.  It's funny enough and well made enough that I want to see the same cast and crew try again.  With a bit of polish, they're well on their way to a legitimate comedy classic.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5

PS - Holy shit, did you guys know they revived the Orion Pictures brand?  I almost fell out my chair when I saw their logo at the beginning of this movie.