If there's a film less ambitious than 'Artie Lange's Beer League,' I just can't think of it. Here's a movie that's not just an excuse for dumb, juvenile and sexist humor, but one that doesn't even pretend to aspire to be more. It's the ultimate slacker comedy, made by slacker filmmakers for slacker audiences. How ironic, then, that 'Beer League' comes off as good-natured and likable as it does, precisely because it has not one iota of redeeming cinematic value.
The story, as it were, cobbles together parts of every Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell sports parody, plus a love for all things 'Animal House.' Artie DeVanzo (Lange) is a pushing-40-year-old who is unemployed, pretty dang stupid, and loves only one thing -- beer. Enjoying a spectrum of friends that could only be possible in the movies (including Seymour Cassell and Ralph "Karate Kid" Macchio), they spend most of their time in a go-nowhere softball league, losing most games because, well, they're either drunk, or on their way.
The drama kicks in when their arch-rival Mangenelli (Anthony DeSando) plots to have them tossed out of the league to save his own team's chances at the championship. Of course, Artie gets wind of the dastardly scheme, and for the first time in his life, finds a sense of purpose. Faster than you can yell, "'Stripes' rip-off!", he pulls together his rag-tag cohorts, who lighten up on the booze and tokes long enough to get their act together and win the big game.
'Artie Lange's Beer League' is exactly what it feels like -- a bunch of filmmakers got together, decided to have some fun and make people laugh, and threw together a movie. If little thought (or passion) seems to have gone into the script, direction, and basic production values, the one thing the cast has in spades is a sense of anarchic fun. Everyone seems to be having a great time (including Lange, of course, as well as a surprisingly energetic Macchio, who seems liberated not to be playing a variation on the Karate Kid), and the energy is infectious.
Like most comedies of this ilk, 'Beer League's humor is unsurprisingly crude (let's just say "ping-pong ball" and "vagina" are two words that should never appear together in the same scene) but also hit or miss. I sense there was little inspiration during the script stage, as the humor meanders, and much of the shoehorned-in drama almost seems like an intentional joke of its own. The girlfriend subplot (Cara Buono, who's appealing as the girl who dumps Lange), the maudlin "death of a major character" moment, and even some "what the!?" moments of slick sentimentality are played earnestly enough that it adds to the movie's charm.
All in all, 'Beer League' made me laugh more often than not. It's exactly the movie it promises to be, and it at least seems to have been made with a sense of fun. Against all odds, I found myself enjoying it, and even Lange (a personality I never was too fond of during his tenure on the Howard Stern Show) acquits himself admirably in his first starring role. If you like this kind of broad, lowest-common denominator comedy, I suspect you already added 'Artie Lange's Beer League' to your Netflix queue two paragraphs ago.
'Artie Lange's Beer League' is the second cheapie Blu-ray release I've reviewed from Echo Bridge Entertainment, following '10.5: Apocalypse.' Considering that '10.5' was actually much better in terms of quality than I anticipated, that leaves me just a tad disappointed with 'Beer League,' as it's simply... mediocre.
Echo Bridge gives us a 1080i/MPEG-2 encode, which has some problems. The image looks too bright due to boosted contrast on the upper end. Blacks are not bad, but the whites really gave me eye strain after awhile. Colors are also vivid if a bit too much, with some slight noise on more intense hues. On the plus side, there is some pop to the image as it's tweaked, but I'm sure detail would have been improved (and far more natural) had things been taken down a notch. The source is also surprisingly spotty for such a recent film, with a few noticeable specks and dirt. There are also a few examples of posterization -- I hope Echo Bridge ditches the MPEG-2 on its future releases and opts for a better codec.
Echo Bridge provides three audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (448kbps), Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (192kbps), and uncompressed PCM 2.0 Stereo (2.3mbps). In a rare occurrence, I actually quite preferred the PCM 2.0 versus the DD 5.1. The latter is just too wimpy, and since the surround effects are so dull anyway, you're not missing much by choosing the stereo option.
The PCM track is much stronger in terms of dynamic range. Okay, so this is still a dumb comedy, but bass is pretty decent and the rest of the mix is nice and clean. Dialogue sounds good (including all the belching and farting), and it's all just more pronounced on the PCM. Granted, the Dolby 5.1 mix does have a surround presence, but it's weak -- discrete effects are lame at best, and even minor ambiance and score bleed is anemic. Unless you just have to hear something emanating from your rear speakers, I'd day go with the PCM.
For a budget title, kudos to Echo Bridge for giving us all the same bonus features as the standard DVD version of 'Beer League.' Yeah, it's all fluffy and light, but for $14.95, it's ironic we get more here than on your average Fox title. (All the extras are in 480i/MPEG-2 only, and there are no subtitle options.)
'Artie Lange's Beer League' is a film about as lacking in ambition as is imaginable -- it only wants to make you laugh at its stupid, juvenile jokes. Luckily, said jokes are more often funny than not. This budget-priced Echo Bridge Blu-ray isn't bad for the price -- OK video, OK audio, and OK supplements. Which perfectly sums up 'Beer League' -- it's pretty OK.