One thing that has always impressed me about Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly’s films is that they love using disabled actors to play small roles. Obstacles are not the purpose of the scene, nor do they define the characters. They are just facts of everyday life. Much like David Lynch likes to focus on the elderly and infirm, these inclusions feel like a more accurate depiction of what the world around us really looks like. The great critic Wesley Morris once said that minorities only appear in movies because “someone put them in the movie.” Of course, the only reason anyone is in a movie is because someone put them there. It’s our job as the audience to ask why.
Bobby Farrelly’s “Champions” should have been terrifying. Woody Harrelson plays recently fired NBA minor his league assistant his coach in the remake of his Spanish Goya Award-winning 2018 comedy Campeones. A judge sends him to the ramshackle Rec Center, where he is ordered to take charge of the Friends, a basketball team of adults with intellectual disabilities who dream of competing in the Special Olympics. Led by Cheech Marin’s all-seeing civil servant, the program is so underfunded that the only way for players to attend his away games is by taking the city bus. At first, the brusque, all-business Harrelson resents his incompetent players and… guess what? If you’ve seen the movie before, you know exactly where this is going. .
But I’d be daunted if it wasn’t a fun ride to get there. “Champions” is a sweet movie that follows the formula to the letter, but knows enough not to overdo it, so it can captivate you anyway. It’s an outing – like Cohen and the Wachowskis, our brothers’ deeds all seem to have gone their separate ways. While he won two Oscars for what he did, his brother Farrelly shows a rather lighthearted and understated touch. He has the same ragtag visual his style that hasn’t evolved since “Dumb and Dumber,” and while this film doesn’t have his 124-minute business, it’s also bubbly and breezy. You like hanging out with these people, especially your friends.
Played by ten disabled actors culled from a massive casting call, they’re a motley crew of strikingly specific personalities that leap off the screen. The team is backed by Kevin Iannucci’s Johnny. He charms you the moment he introduces himself as “homely with extra chrome,” even if he hates showering making life difficult for those who play downwind. These guys are genuinely adorable, especially one guy who keeps his teammates intimidated with graphic details about how much sex he has. It screams to see them all terrified in fear of a certain Madison Tervin Cosentino. Not wise angels beyond their years who are here to teach a lesson.
Harrelson is ideally cast. He has a good-natured and friendly relationship with his players and does not look down on them or the audience. After a very badly directed sequence in which he himself is fired – transplanted almost shot by shot from the Spanish original – the actor wisely mitigates the character’s arrogance. Harrelson doesn’t hog the spotlight or foreground his character’s redemption. He lavishes the screen not only on Friends, but also on Johnny’s older sister, who was played amazingly well by “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” star Kaitlyn Olson. It turns out these two had a bad connection on Tinder a while back.
Olson’s affectionate and overprotective relationship with Johnny is clearly modeled after Cameron Diaz and her brother in The Farrellies’ There’s Something About Mary, but in the film Friends calls it a “boo-boo word.” What we have is clearly less than we heard on Taboo. – Smashing Classic. Harrelson’s presence may bring to mind the 1996 filmmaker’s reckless, rebellious masterpiece “Kingpin,” but “Champions” is the mellower spirit of 2003’s conjoined-twins comedy “Stuck on You.” is in I forgot to write a joke.
“Champions” is like a misfit, underdog sports movie with both EMF’s “Unbelievable” and Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” on the soundtrack. (I thought you were only allowed to pick one. The final seconds. Still, there’s comfort in these clichés too, and seeing them brought to life by characters you care about. There are no surprises in this movie, other than how enjoyable it is.