A funny, good-hearted comedy that loves these disabled basketball players.

I’ve had my concerns with how “Champions” would play out. Would it offend people of intellectual disabilities? Or would it teach some people a thing or two? The answer is it would teach some people a thing or two. Don’t even think about using the “R” word around my presence (as you know I have autism) or anyone else’s presence for that matter. A guy who did insult these disabled young adults learned that lesson the hard way. A real punch in the crouch he got, and that’s satisfying for me.

Director Bobby Farrelly (of the Farrelly Brothers) reunites with his “Kingpin” lead Woody Harrelson in this American remake of a Spanish film called “Campeones.” And he’s at the right age to play someone would could use some adjusting to acknowledging these special young adults, and how they’re people, too. My mother told me she hates the word “Normal,” and how it shouldn’t exist, because we’re all special. This is the kind of movie she would like, and so did I.

Harrelson plays an Iowa assistant basketball coach named Marcus. He gets fired for knocking his boss Phil Peretti (Ernie Hudson) down and for getting arrested for DUI. And that wasn’t enough, he ends up doing community service by training a team of disabled basketball players. He asks the judge what he should call them if he can’t call them the “R” word, she responds: “Their names would be nice.”

I can’t name all these special players, but I can name a few and their attributes or troubles.

  • There’s Johnny (Kevin Iannuchi), who reeks because he has aquaphobia and refuses to shower, while living with his older sister Alex (Kaitlyn Olsen), the same woman Marcus had a one night stand with.
  • There’s Darius (Joshua Felder), who refuses to train with Marcus for personal reasons.
  • There’s Marlon (Casey Metcalfe), who is so specific, he talks like he’s the son of the creator of Wikipedia.
  • There’s Benny (James Day Keith), who has to miss some games for his job as a dishwasher, and believe me: his boss is the not the person I would want to work for.
  • And there’s the only girl on the team named Cosentino (Madison Tevlin), who feels that carrying a boogie board will come in handy, and is also the most outspoken of the team.

The Farrelly Brothers have done disabled jokes before in “There’s Something About Mary” and “Shallow Hal,” with real actors with real disabilities. And these two were honored for Disability Inclusion by Ruderman Found. Handling this subject matter on his own, Bobby manages to overcome the cynicisms of the characters, while allowing them to be funny on their own terms.

“Champions” is not “Forrest Gump” in terms of its screenplay (by Mark Rizzo) which can be all over the place, but it’s also not “Music” in terms of its casting and spirit. That’s good news. Harrelson is funny and brutally honest, but he also has his vulnerabilities-the kind I failed to find in “The Man from Toronto.” You chose to see that. Shame on you. See this movie. It’s miles ahead of that.

And he’s not alone. The disabled actors are really funny, too, but also affectionate. They’re not idiots; they’re human beings who deserve a shot in the games. And some good supporting work also comes from Olsen, Hudson, and Cheech Marin (as a gym manager). None of them are as wasted or as crass as Kate Hudson or Maddie Ziegler in “Music.” You have to admit that.

This basketball comedy shoots and scores. More so than “Space Jam: A New Legacy” or “House Party.” I know I’m comparing and contrasting films a lot in this review, but I know good and bad movies when I see them. “Champions” is a good (if not great) movie.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Categories: comedy, Drama, Sport

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: