May 13, 2019
Street Date 5/14/19
Comedy, B.O. $0.5 million, $14.95 DVD, $24.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for nonstop language, including strong sexual references, sexuality, nudity and drug use.
Stars Artie Lange, Ralph Macchio, Anthony De Sando, Cara Buono, Jimmy Palumbo, Jerry Minor, Joe Lo Truglio, Seymour Cassel, Laurie Metcalf, Louis Lombardi.
I love this movie. It’s the perfect tonic for the Al Bundy in us all — an ode to camaraderie, teamwork and the art of the great insult.
That description belies a certain temperament, of course, but how one not eyeball a movie headlined by Artie Lange about a softball squad of New Jersey drunks and not expect to find something potentially offensive to ponder? If it was un-PC when it first premiered in 2006, and it most certainly was, it would be hard pressed to even get made in the Twitter-fueled outrage culture of today. And that’s aside from how years of cocaine use have turned Lange’s nose into silly putty.
Co-written by Lange and director Frank Sebastiano (and based on Shakespeare’s Ale League, Sebastiano quips in the commentary), Beer League is the Bad News Bears if the entire team were Buttermakers — a portrait of drunken thirtysomethings whose last shot at glory rests with success in one of those community rec-center slow-pitch softball leagues where the teams consist of bar buddies.
Lange basically plays himself, a guy named Artie whose team is so bad they always end up picking a fight with their main rivals rather than admit defeat. A local cop (a great cameo by Louis Lombardi of “24”) is so fed up with the fights he orders the team that finishes with the worst record to leave the league.
Artie has a personal motivation for winning, as the other team is led by his oldest rival, who has held the upper hand in their feud since high school.
All seems lost until Artie realizes that if his team can stay sober in a league of drunks, they might actually have an advantage.
But Artie can’t seem to get out of the way of his own personal problems, particularly when it comes to his new girlfriend, played by Cara Buono, who later had a prominent role in season four of “Mad Men” as the love interest of Don Draper who gets dumped so he can marry his secretary; most recently she’s been on “Stranger Things” as Mike’s mom.
A few other plot machinations conspire to bring the team to their lowest point just before the championship, leading to a final game one must see to believe. There’s just something special about seeing a batter throw up in mid-swing, a feat Joe Lo Truglio (of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) pulls off with aplomb.
The late Seymour Cassel, who just died in April, gets some of the film’s best lines and steals nearly every scene he’s in as the crotchety old-timer who pitches for Artie’s team.
Also notable is Jimmy Palumbo as Johnny, who constantly refers to his quest to finish the season with a .700 batting average (“It’s so unfair … it’s like pitching to a healthy Lou Gehrig”).
Artie’s best friend is played by Ralph Macchio, who at the time was basically at the tail end of his Karate Kid fame before a guest appearance on HBO’s “Entourage” led to his casting in this movie and sparked a bit of a career renaissance that brought him full circle with “Cobra Kai.”
Even Tina Fey gets in on the action with a one-line cameo as a gym receptionist. Fey was wrapping up her stint on “Saturday Night Live” at the time and about to debut “30 Rock,” and shows up here visibly pregnant with her first daughter.
This is one of those films that critics are prone to dismiss, and most did at the time, but for the audience in the target demographic, which I suppose would be middle-aged Johnny Six-Packs, it hits the sweet spot. It’s crude, extremely funny and eminently watchable in the vein of The Hangover or Major League, and rife with quotability. My brother and I still toss off zingers from the film to this day.
With its flair for crudeness and apathy toward the human condition, Beer League is a perfect companion piece for 1998’s Dirty Work, which was co-written by Sebastiano and also starred Lange.
The new FilmRise Blu-ray edition of the film is basically an updated pressing of the Echo Bridge Blu-ray from 2008, with a new menu and the same previously released trove of bonus material.
The Lange-Sebastiano commentary ends up being surprisingly serious compared with the tone of the film itself, mainly because in-between Lange laughing about his various drug habits they actually focus on how the film was made.
We get a glimpse of Sebastiano’s directing style in the 19-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, which shows him calling the shots in a Yankee cap and bath robe.
The Blu-ray also includes the minute-long faux “Beer Goggles” commercial that went on to inspire the production of Beer League.
Additional extras include the film’s trailers; a photo gallery; four minutes of Lange recording jokes for the film’s promotional campaign; footage of Lange behind the scenes at “Best Damn Sports Show,” “The Jimmy Kimmel Show” and Cine Vegas (3-4 minutes each); and 19 minutes of cast junket interviews.