“I’m your homie with an extra chromie!”
The above line tells you pretty much all you need to know about the tone of Champions, Bobby Farrelly’s feel-good comedy. It’s a remake of a Spanish 2018 film of the same name, which was inspired by a real basketball team.
Farrelly’s remake tries to be a feel-good sports movie with a heart and a surprising amount of naughty jokes. It’s a shame that the narrative doesn’t break any new ground or manage to get much out of the traditional themes.
Woody Harrelson plays Marcus Marakovich, a hot-headed minor-league basketball coach with a taste for booze. After he makes headlines for kicking off at a game, he ends up drinking away his sorrows and crashes his car into a police vehicle, earning him 90 days of community service at a local rec centre.
Marcus, to his annoyance, is ordered to coach a local basketball team consisting of players with different intellectual disabilities. Marcus is less than thrilled, but as he works with the groups, comes to appreciate their drive and good spirits. He ultimately takes the team from victory to victory, but personal matters complicate Marcus’ life both on and off the court.
Champions is trying so hard to have a little bit of edge to its traditional narrative without being offensive. This mostly includes crude, mildly funny sex jokes. The tone, which is cheeky and playful, often comes across as patronising as if Farrelly is talking down to his audience.
What mostly powers Champions is the fantastic cast. Harrelson is always a delightful presence and the actor’s charisma feels almost tailor-mentioned for a film like this. He is somewhat overshadowed by Kaitlin Olson’s witty performance as Alex, the mandatory love interest, but truly, the film belongs to the cast playing the basketball players.
Kevin Iannucci, James Day Keith and Joshua Felder are all wonderfully funny and warm performers, even if their characters are a little too broadly drawn. The highlight is without a doubt Madison Tevlin as Cosentino, the only woman in the team. She is sassy and funny and perhaps the only one who can challenge Marcus head-on and come out as the winner in a battle of temperaments.
Unfortunately, the film is far too modest and formulaic for its own good. Although the intentions are good, it’s another story of a pretty privileged guy bettering himself at the expense of disabled people. Champions takes a lot of shortcuts, especially with Marcus. There’s great potential in the storyline with Felder’s character Darius who initially refuses to play for the new coach, but like everything else in Champions, this gets resolved far too easily.
There’s a strange refusal to go deeper and explore something more meaningful. There is plenty to applaud in Champions; the casting is on-point and the ending is moving, if manipulative. But much like Marcus’ sexual capabilities, as noted by Alex, the film is merely passable.
Champions is in cinemas 10 March.