Blackball (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner08/08/2003


Three out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Amusing British comedy with good performances and some terrific scenes, though it tails off a little in the second half.

If you think of cinematic sports, you tend to think of baseball, American football, football, maybe even golf – you certainly don’t think of Lawn Bowls. However, that’s the subject of Mel Smith’s latest comedy and, to his credit, he actually makes the bowling sequences very exciting indeed.

Inspired By A True Story?!

Surprisingly, Blackball is inspired by the true story of Griff Sanders, the self-styled “John McEnroe of lawn bowling”, who received a nationwide ban from the game for excessive swearing. Set in the sleepy seaside resort of Torquay, the film stars Paul Kaye as local bad boy Cliff Starkey, a genius at lawn bowls, though he shuns the stuffy, conservative lawn bowls club run by reigning champion Ray Speight (James Cromwell). However, when the opportunity arises for him to play for England, he has to first become regional champion by defeating Speight…

Blackball is an enjoyable film with several things going for it. It has an attractively eclectic cast (Bernard Cribbens, Johnny Vegas and Vince Vaughn: together at last!), a great soundtrack, several excellent gags and some terrific individual scenes (Cliff’s ‘revenge’ bowling along a dining table is a definite highlight).

Unfortunately, it tails off in the second half and neglects to properly set up and pay off its emotional climaxes – which is a shame, because the film seems as if it’s just one tiny rewrite away from being something rather special.

Superb Performances All Round

There’s still a lot to enjoy, though – Kaye makes an appealingly oddball lead, despite the fact that his character is meant to be cocky and annoying. Cromwell is also good as the repressed, bowls-obsessed Speight and Alice Evans is fine as Cromwell’s daughter and Cliff’s love interest.

However, the film is stolen by the Holy Trinity of Cribbens, Vegas and Vaughn in support as, respectively, Cliff’s grandad, his best friend and his aggressive American agent. Vegas, in particular, is a delight, particularly in the scene where he spoils Cliff’s first date by excitedly declaring “I’ve got the three P’s – Pilsner, pizza and porn!” Imelda Staunton is also in it, though her character appears to have been heavily cut down, as it’s hard to tell just what her relation is to Cribbens et al.

In short, this is well-acted, has several good one-liners and some great scenes but misses the opportunity to send you home cheering. Still, don’t be surprised if the papers start reporting an upsurge in Lawn Bowls club membership. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 16/07/2018 02:03

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