Overly banal and cliché, a U.S. remake of the Spanish sports comedy Campeones (2018) about the adventures of a disgraced foul-mouthed minor league basketball coach who finds himself in deep legal trouble and must coach a Des Moines basketball team of players with intellectual disabilities on Bobby Farrelly’s latest romp titled Champions. While the film channels the tropes of Slap Shot and The Bad News Bears, Farrelly’s latest comedy certainly generates some huge belly laughs with some charming moments, but for every big laugh comes a very lazy laugh. With a delightful cast, seeing Woody Harrelson do his arrogant, “no manners” shtick again as a basketball coach almost feels like a continuation of his Billy Hoyle role in White Men Can’t Jump is almost worth the price of admission alone. However, the film suffers from too many familiar beats that offer very few surprises that ends up taking a very patronizing approach.
After turning in a darkly sardonic role as a drunken ship captain in Triangle of Sadness, Harrelson returns as the lead as Marcus, a minor league assistant basketball coach who is kicked off the team after getting into an altercation with fellow head-coach and friend Phil Perretti (Ernie Hudson). After a night of boozing, Marcus ends up crashing into a police vehicle and is slapped with a DUI. After being ordered by a Des Moines judge to either serve jail time for nearly two years or lead a Special Olympics basketball team for 90 days.
Courtesy Focus Features
This sets-up the very trite story of a frustrated coach who has to turn a substandard team into a team of champions. While it is commendable that Farrelly uses a cast of actors that have intellectual disabilities, and the actors are certainly having fun with their roles, there are many missteps in the writing where too many of the disabled team members, known as the Friends, remain secondary. Aside from some endearing scenes, many of the other characters are reduced to their traits. Including a cruel joke involving one character, Johnny (Kevin Iannucci), who refuses to take a shower, and Showtime (Bradely Edens), who only shoots with his back to the basketball hoop. Many of these jokes aren’t too funny the first time, yet they are constantly repeated throughout the film with unfunny results.
Ultimately, the supporting characters aren’t exactly well-rounded or fleshed out well enough. While it’s already overlong, so much time can only be given, and even Johnny is overshadowed by his sister, Alex (Kaitlin Olson), who coincidentally encounters Marcus after one of the practices again after a disastrous one-night stand off a Tinder date. Their relationship is a filler and holds every rom-com trope you can think of. Even though Olson and Harrelson have sharp exchanges, so much is there to serve as Marcus’s redemption story arc, and every moment given to Alex and Marcus takes away from the genuine approach.
Courtesy Focus Features
The refreshing new cast members who join Iannucci are certainly having a blast—Madison Tevlin, Joshua Felder, Ashton Gunning, Matthew Von Der Ahe, Tom Sinclair, James Day Keith, Casey Metcalfe, and Bradley Edens are all a delight. Sadly, their characters are wasted on some ill-advised jokes and one-liners that feel just as dated as the archaic 90s soundtrack that appears throughout the film. In fact, Champions almost feels like a film the Farrelly Brothers would have produced 20 years ago, in the peak of their era, but without the raucous humor, earned charm, or comedic risk-taking. While Bobby Farrelly and his team are aiming for something genuine with heart and laughter, they are coasting on their intentions. While the film undeniably offers many subdued and uproariously comical moments, it sadly gets trapped in a very diluted and trite presentation.
Champions is now showing in theaters.