About half of Beer League takes place in small, confined spaces like bar corners, bedrooms and diner booths. The other half takes place on a softball diamond. The weird thing about this is that there's absolutely no attempt at laughs during the softball scenes. Man hits ball. Cut to ball being chipped to third base. Cut to man running to the bag. This happens over and over, sans-hijinks, as if the audience cares about the stakes in a slow-pitch softball tournament. It becomes obvious that first-time director Frank Sebastiano, a former Saturday Night Live writer, didn't have the foggiest notion of how to do anything with a camera except maybe rent it, so he simply conceded that the softball half of his movie would be comedy-free. Not that the other half is exactly comedy, either. It's more of a hit-and-miss attempt at expanding the brand of 'Jersey lowlife' shtick beyond what's already been mined by Kevin Smith movies and The Sopranos. So in other words, if you live within a three-mile radius of my apartment, you're in the Beer League demographic.
The film was financed and co-written (with Sabastiano) by comedian Artie Lange, known mostly for his day job as a sidekick on Howard Stern's radio show. From what I understand, Lange is pretty successful as a stand-up, so I can't imagine why he wanted to sink all his dough into this film. The idea of an R-rated Bad News Bears with 40-year old adolescents is not the worst concept I've ever heard, but like way too many projects that draw in Saturday Night Live alumni, this one is so aggressively cheap and flimsy in execution that its creators couldn't possibly have made it with a clear conscience. The film is so low on laughs that it sometimes resorts to what I call "laugh substitutes," which means long exposition scenes that no one could figure out how to make funny, so they tried to use a prop. I'm thinking in particular of an early scene where Lange is in bed with his girlfriend having a boring conversation, and a cigarette flops conspicuously out of his mouth the whole time. I'm pretty sure we're supposed to giggle at that.
For reasons known only to them, the filmmakers decided to unearth The Karate Kid's Ralph Macchio to play Lange's best friend in the movie. I guess this could have been funny if there was a crane-kick joke waiting for us somewhere in the third act, but no, just Ralph Macchio playing a sidekick. Lange and Macchio are 35-ish schlubs who compete in a softball tourney against their arch-nemesis, Mangenelli (played by Anthony DeSando). We know that Mangenelli is a rich guy because he comes walking out of a big house in speedos and because we're told repeatedly that he's "running for mayor." While prepping for the big game, Artie also meets and falls for Linda, the town "whoo-aa," played by Cara Buono. Strangely, the scenes between Artie and Linda were mostly watchable, though it might have just been that I was relieved after surviving another jokeless inning of softball. I wouldn't say Artie is completely without acting talent, but he needs a director to remind him not to scrunch up his face and laugh after delivering his own jokes.
I can't say enough about all the bad directing choices. Have you ever seen a lame comedy that had an end-credits gag loop that was funnier than the movie? Well, Beer League has an end-credits loop that's not only less funny than the movie, it's completely incomprehensible. It contains literally no laughs, whatsoever. The first clip begins with a guy talking to a girl on the boardwalk, and it goes on for a couple of minutes, and then another clip starts and so forth. No laughs. It's as if the movie's producer phoned in and demanded that an end-credits gag reel be included in the film over everyone's objections, so they put this in just to stick it to him. I don't mean to beat up too badly on a film that was obviously financed for about the price of a lawn mower, but no one with enough alleged comedy chops to helm a movie should allow entire stretches to go by with nothing but the rustling sound of tumbleweeds blowing by. At least attempt some jokes, and if they flop, they flop.
There are a few laughs whenever Seymour Cassel turns up as an elderly, foul-mouthed member of the softball team, but he looks so close to death that when he collapses in one scene, I was worried this might have really happened, and they had to just shoot around it. For most of the film, you wait for the big laughs to kick in -- the ones you assume must be coming along at any minute. Then you wait, and wait some more. While you're waiting, you get cameos from cast members of The Sopranos, a few shots of topless dancers, and a scene with a hooker called "pitching machine" who shoots ping-pong balls out of her vagina. With a hit-to-miss laugh ratio of about 1 in 7 overall, and just barely enough promotable names to warrant a theatrical run, Beer League is the kind of film you can look forward to sleeping through as it plays late-night on Showtime a year from now.