In “BASEketball,” a winkingly broad sports-and-media burlesque, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the smash animated TV series “South Park,” appear before us as wised-up versions of Wayne and Garth – boyish, degenerate slacker slobs who are the butt of the satire and also the masters of it. Parker, with bleached-blond hair and a gaze of blobby fake ingenuousness, is introduced while taking a pee, and that pretty well sums up his screen persona: He treats comedy as a means of relieving himself on whatever’s happening around him. Stone, with his raunchy sneer and exploding moptop, calls up the image of Micky Dolenz starring in a road-show version of “Hair,” and, if anything, he’s even more obnoxious than his partner – his eyes sparkle with delight at how badly he’s misbehaving. My God, what naughty boys!
Parker and Stone play Coop and Remer, postcollegiate losers who invent a knowingly idiotic fusion of basketball and baseball called “baseketball,” a game that requires a minimum of exertion and a maximum of attitude. Stepping up to a series of candy-colored bases, the players, surrounded by screaming fans and cheerleading vixens, proceed to shoot free throws, with each basket counting as one “hit.” Meanwhile, a member of the opposing team stands in front of the shooter and attempts a “psych-out” – i.e., anything he can think of to disrupt concentration, from chewing on tinfoil to making rude remarks about what the shooter’s mother did last night. Coop and Remer lead a team called the Milwaukee Beers, who play in a series of domed stadiums that look as if they’ve been built out of plastic blocks. As a game, baseketball is nothing to take seriously, and, in the movie, it’s not a serious send-up of professional athletics, either. The stadiums resemble MTV studios, and the entire “sport” has the stunt atmosphere of a put-on game show: “Singled Out” with jockstraps.
Parker and Stone don’t have a behind-the-camera credit on “BASEketball” (it was directed by David Zucker, formerly of the ZAZ team, from a script he cowrote with Robert LoCash, Lewis Friedman, and Jeff Wright), but the film has been tailored to exploit their bad-boy street cred, and their handprints are all over it. This is a movie that finds its wit in a reality-TV parody entitled “Road Kill,” in a sports announcer casually dropping the word “c—sucker,” in gags about dying kids and milk-spurting male nipples. For every raucous, infantile joke that actually works, there are a dozen others that charge out of the dugout and fall flat, like the bits with Jenny McCarthy, as a gold-digging slut, literally laying carpet at the home of the corporate sleaze (Robert Vaughn) who wants to take over the league. What keeps you watching is the way the gags slam forward with a nearly hormonal momentum.
Usually, when comedians are described as outrageous (Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, Howard Stern), it means that they’re fearless and abandoned, that they expose and detonate taboos the audience didn’t even know were there. Parker and Stone, by contrast, have perfected a style of sophomoric overkill that’s almost disarmingly controlled. “BASEketball,” like “South Park,” stakes out a veritable locker room of officially blasphemous subject matter: dirty words and bodily functions, nudge-nudge remarks about private parts and religion and, of course, death. Each joke is delivered with triumphant attack, as if it were the most revolutionary comedic stink bomb of all time. Yet an air of synthetic, we’re-only-kidding unreality hovers over the proceedings. Like the Farrelly brothers, who admit to test-screening every nuance of their outrageousness, Parker and Stone represent the new mainstreaming of black comedy. They’re the poster dudes for shock humor that
isn’t shocking anymore.
It’s the lack of shock that makes “BASEketball” so much less uproarious than it wants – or pretends – to be. Parker and Stone are abrasively confident showmen, and they do have moments of flaky inspiration. One of the film’s savviest moves was the casting of Dian Bachar, who resembles a wormy, shrunken Rob Schneider, as Squeak, a teammate Remer delights in tormenting, mostly by calling him “bitch.” Bachar, who also costars in Parker’s upcoming midnight-movie porn spoof, “Orgazmo,” is a new kind of actor – the mascot as hostile homunculus. Each time Stone abuses him, it’s jolting, and funny, to see one of the stars of “BASEketball” actually put his inhumanity where his mouth is.