This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … sports movies.
This weekend I experienced the very rare sensation of enjoying a sports movie. The Wrestler, starring the formerly handsome and now stunningly strange-looking Mickey Rourke, is as close to Rocky as any sports movie ever made, and Rocky is still the best sports movie ever made, Raging Bull be damned. I don’t like wrestling, but I do enjoy great acting, careful direction, attention to mood and detail and Marisa Tomei’s still sweet tits and ass. The combination made this flick a winner.
But sports movies strike out, or at least foul out behind third base, much more often than they hit it out of the park. (See what a clever wordsmith I am? While talking “sports” movies, I use two sports metaphors. Some writers wield a rapier pen and craft their text with expert subtlety. I not only use a sledgehammer; I point out its use to bored readers. Shit, I should have said “baseball bat” instead of sledgehammer right there.)
Yes, there are exceptions to suck-ass sports movies. Hoosiers, Rocky and Chariots of Fire the goosebumps and tear ducts every time. Breaking Away is one of the best sports movie ever made. (It also includes the greatest single athletic feat ever filmed. Watch the young protagonist, while riding his road bike, bend down off of said bike and pick up a girl’s notebook. Try it at home, then call me from the emergency room.) But most of them leave you wanting or retching.
This can probably be chalked up to the fact that real sports provide real drama that fictional drama just can’t top. Even when the most dramatic true sports stories get made into movies, Hollywood’s re-creation can’t come close to capturing the real drama of the real sport. Take the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” when the U.S. Olympic team squeaked out a gold medal against the Russkies. Someone in Hollywood was delusional enough to think they could make a movie that could capture a tenth of that unsurpassed sports drama and emotion. Yet they’ve made the movie version twice, and both were unforgettable wastes of time.
The same holds true for biopics about our most storied athletes. The Bambino’s been dead for over 60 years, and we still don’t have a decent Babe Ruth movie. First of all, how can a movie enhance the myth of Babe Ruth? Secondly, if they really wanted to make an accurate, raw portrayal of America’s most famous athlete, you’d have to have include some gory scenes of some fat ugly actor banging 1920’s quality snatch, and no one wants to see that. What’s that? You say you do? Picture John Goodman’s naked ass plowing between the bony legs of smush-puss Renee Zellwegger, her nether regions all stanked up from a night of Jitterbugging at the local speakeasy? See, now you don’t either.
My least favorite sports movie are the ones in which I don’t even want to root for the main character(s). Eight Men Out tries to create sympathetic characters out of the poor-poor-me lowlifes who fixed the 1919 World Series. I wish the movie ended with them all doing a stint in jail. Paul Newman’s band of cheapshotting thugs in Slap Shot should all suffer knocked-through-the-board concussions. The Bad News Bears? I do not find smartass children all that lovable. I find them swattable.
This last category is the one under which my most hated sports movie of all time falls. I’m talking about Rudy, of course. I hate everything about the movie. I hate the characters, I hate the story and I hate Notre Dame. Hell, for two hours, I even hate Ned Beatty, who plays the dad of the whiney little shit who thinks four years of being a human blocking dummy entitles him to play a few downs of big-time college football. It’s hard to hate Ned Beatty after the poor bastard got his ass blown out in Deliverance by the ugliest actors this side of a modern-day Mickey Rourke.
Rudy had no right ever seeing the field of play in a regulation game. Skill and a lifetime of hard work (and let’s face it, a big win in the gene pool) are what earn some muscle-bound prick the right to play (and hopefully lose, badly) on Notre Dame’s field on Saturday afternoons. Sorry Rudy, but just showing up for practice every day for the privilege of letting cornfed midwestern no-necked yahoos knock you up and down the practice field all week does not entitle you to a few plays in a real game.
Hell, I wish it did. I’d have gladly let Jack Lambert spit on me in practice pileups back in the day if it meant I could have caught just one down and out 15-yarder from Terry Bradshaw. Even today I’d be willing to be the designated jock washer for an entire season if it meant being allowed to play shortstop for just one inning with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but that’s not going to happen because the Pirates are a Major Leag … on second thought, maybe it is possible.
I hate the way Rudy makes coaches Dan Devine and Ara Parseghian look like heartless assholes because they won’t play the retard who shows up at practice every day. Maybe they were complete jerks the rest of the time, but they weren’t jerks for not wanting to consent to letting a half-pint of Indiana entitlement play a few downs on a lark. They were looking out the integrity of the game, the rights of the real players and Rudy’s spindly brittle spine, which unfortunately was not snapped in two by a vicious tagteam tackle (Okay, even I wouldn’t wish paralysis on anyone, but a few cracked vertebrates would have been nice.)
The most ridiculous part of the whole movie is how the black janitor is just too touched and tickled to see game guy Rudy finally get his chance. There wasn’t a black janitor in the nation in the early 70’s who would have felt anything but bitterness toward the little white boy getting a chance to get a few carries out of the Fighting Irish’s hallowed gridiron. (Spare me.) He’d have seen it as one more example of whitey getting yet an undeserved privilege, and he’d have been praying for Rudy to get bent and twisted like a 14-year-old Bangkok whore.
So give me a movie like The Wrestler. Gritty, bleak and without a single misstep throughout. The more I think about it, it might even eclipse Rocky in the sports movie rankings. Not that Mickey Rourke is that good. But a naked Marisa Tomei beats a greasy, bony Talia Shire in any decade.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.