Features Live Action Movies


Director – Bobby Farrelly – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 124m


A disgraced basketball coach is sentenced to community service coaching a team of people with learning difficulties – out on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, June 12th

After spending the night with less than impressed, fortysomething, one night Tinder partner Alex (Kaitlin Olsen), assistant American football coach Marcus (Woody Harrelson) vocalises his strategy disagreement with his coach boss Peretti (Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters) during a match on the sidelines with national TV cameras watching. Later, drunk driving and full of himself, he drives into the back of a police car. His lawyer (Mike Smith) assures Marcus he’ll be fine in court until his brief reveals the judge to be the notorious Hanging Mary (Alexandra Castillo). Despite almost talking himself into a jail sentence, Marcus is given 90 days community service.

His service consists of coaching The Friends, a team of people with learning difficulties run by Julio (Cheech Marin). There is one brilliant player on the team, Darius (Joshua Felder), who was set for basketball stardom prior to being hit by a drunk driver’s car. His immediate reaction when Marcus enters the gym is, he won’t play for him.

The friendly (and smelly) Johnny (Kevin Iannucci) welcomes Marcus with a seemingly interminable, vicelike bear hug. Showtime (Bradley Edens) faces away from the net before throwing the ball at it behind him, invariably missing. Marlon (Casey Metcalf) is obsessed with and constantly spouts facts. Benny (James Day Keith) is actually quite a good player, but alas tends to miss games because of his unreasonable and exploitative restaurant boss’ refusal to give him time off.

Initially the team he meets are all boys, but there’s an emergency and outside of Marcus’ control, a girl named Cosetino (Madison Tevlin) is drafted in to join them. She turns out to be the person who can say the right word or phrase to a player to get them to comply with requests that Marcus can’t. She is also the life and soul of the party, that is to say the team, and once she’s appeared it is impossible to imagine The Friends without her.

Johnny nearly drowned as a child, so won’t take showers. He also loves animals and works at an animal welfare centre. A “rat” is reported by team members in the shower room at the end of a practice session. It turns out to be a mouse, and Johnny, concerned for its safety. Is informed by Marcus that he is the man to rescue the creature before it drowns (which seems a possibility given that it tries to get into the drain. In the midst of Johnny’s rescuing the creature, Marcus manages to get him to apply soap and shampoo, something of a major achievement.

Marcus is in for a shock the first time he attends his first away fixture with the team. Because the bus to take the team there is… a public transport bus. Controlling the lads on the bus is a challenge – one of them sings loudly annoying other passengers and another hurls a projectile at the driver.

They are thrown off the bus, stranded in the middle of nowhere and probably going to miss their games until Johnny suggest they call his sister, who has a van. It turns out, she’s an actress who performs Shakespeare to school classes and her van is a mobile home on wheels to facilitate this. It also turns out, she is Alex, Marcus’ disastrous Tinder encounter. She must be persuaded to be the team’s regular driver for away games.

The subsequent romantic liaison between Marcus and Alex is nicely handled, with the former feeling she needs to stick around at home to look after her brother who doesn’t want to move in with other team members in their residential care home because his and Alex’s father abandoned them years ago and he feels he shouldn’t so the same. Invited by Johnny for family meatloaf night, Marcus gets to meet their savvy mum Dot (Barbara Pollard) who knows exactly what’s going on between him and her daughter.

This remake of Spanish entry Campeones (Javier Fesser, 2018) commendably casts actors with learning difficulties as the basketball team who prove nothing if not winsome on camera, their performances augmented by good work by Harrelson and the rest of the cast. What could have so easily been horrible and mawkish plays out as hugely enjoyable, with the disabled characters shown as essentially having to deal with the same everyday issues and challenges as everyone else. They even talk about sex.

On top of all this, the film is very, very funny. Comedy is, in this writer’s opinion, one of the hardest things to pull off. (So-called ‘comedy’ movies which aren’t funny? I’ve seen more than I care to remember.) It also handles the subject of disability well, laughing with rather than at its characters. It never falls into the trap of trying too hard to be worthy or politically correct, indeed is not afraid to potentially offend, making considerable use of a term from US English I now learn is referred to as “the R-word” and even throwing in an hilarious joke about a threesome at just the right moment – one would expect no less with Bobby Farrelly (Shallow Hal, 2001; There’s Something About Mary, 1998) at the helm.

Indeed, it does what it does so well that UK charity Mencap have come out in support of the film, which speaks volumes. Altogether, surprisingly effective, massively enjoyable and absolutely hilarious. For all the right reasons.

Stay to the very end of the credits for an extra surprise.

Champions is out on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, June 12th following its release on download to keep on Monday, May 29th and in cinemas in the UK on Friday, March 10th 2023.


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