Bobby Farrelly makes his solo directorial debut in the upcoming sports dramedy Champions about a down-and-out basketball coach named Marcus (Woody Harrelson) who after getting a DUI is given a 90-day community service sentence as the coach of a basketball team composed of people with intellectual disabilities. Now from the history of Bobby and Peter Farrelly this concept would not seem to be something they would want to take on. The Farrelly’s have a history of hilarious comedies such as Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and Me, Myself & Irene that all thrive comedically on material that would not play so well in today’s hyper-sensitive climate.
However, to Farrelly’s credit, Champions is a relatively heartwarming underdog story that can easily lure you in despites its predictability. You know where this one will go. You know where the focal characters will wind up when the end credits roll. Yet there’s still plenty of enjoyable lighthearted humor and drama…with an emphasis on the latter. Because the comedy was sporadic, and mostly delivered from the members of the team. I appreciated how there was empathy for these characters. This movie doesn’t make fun of these characters because of their differences, and they never feel like the butt of the joke. So how their disabilities are showcased with a humorous lens, is going to be something that will deliver both light amusement and awkward attempts you don’t really feel good laughing about.
It’s tough for a story of this theme to balance its tastefulness and I do think Champions accomplishes it for the most part. Harrelson’s Marcus, his career, and his love life are the focus naturally, but seeing his embracing of this team does provide the needed feel-good elements. On the other hand, I would have liked to see more development in the members of the team. Johnny (Kevin Iannucci) is given more story layers due to his connection with Marcus, but outside of him most are there for filler and a source of humor. Craig (Matthew Von Der Ahe) loves to talk about his sex-life, graphically. Showtime (Bradley Edens) always shoots backwards. Marlon (Casey Metcalfe) is a fountain of information. Cosentino (Madison Tevlin) is the bossy mother hen of the group. All relatively one-note.
The story doesn’t fully explore the lives of these characters after giving us compelling peaks at their day to day. There were also some interesting subplots revolving around a couple guys on the team that should have gotten a deeper examination. One being a kid who’s having issues with his boss and another who doesn’t want to play for Marcus. Instead the bulk of the time is spent on Marcus, his getting a coaching gig, and primarily his will-they-won’t-they with Alex (Kaitlin Olson) when that subplot didn’t need nearly as much time as it was given. Champions is two-hours long and it doesn’t need to be for the story it ultimately tells.
Regardless of the lack of depth given to the team, seeing them together, and the happiness they have being in this movie is able to elevate the material they had to work with. Harrelson has also shown more charisma in other comedies but given his character here it’s understandable, and it actually helps make the growth of his friendship and his unconditional love for this team that much more sincere. Champions may leave a bit of its potential on the bench, but it doesn’t hinder this movie from still being an easily engaging sports flick that can put a smile on your face while you root for this team.
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2022 SilverScreen Analysis. All Rights Reserved.