Film review: Hale has a ball with new film

Published: Friday, March 17 2006 4:11 p.m. MST

CHURCH BALL — ** — Andrew Wilson, Fred Willard, Gary Coleman; rated PG (violence, vulgarity, brief drugs).

It's hard to tell whether the jokes in "Church Ball" are any funnier than those in earlier HaleStorm movie productions — "The Singles Ward," "The R.M." and "The Home Teachers."

This film's jokes might just seem funnier because the actors delivering the lines are funny people. The cast includes comic veteran Fred Willard, who can get a chuckle just by showing up.

Consequently, "Church Ball" is more appealing than those earlier films, and there's more of an effort to tell an actual story and develop a few characters.

But it still relies heavily on dumb slapstick, including a few tasteless, low-brow moments.

"Church Ball" is clearly meant to poke fun at LDS Church-sanctioned basketball leagues and tournaments, which were eventually done away with in the early 1970s, thanks to some too-heated contests. (The film's time period is never specific.)

Among those competing in this film's tournament is the rather hapless Mud Lake team, which has never won any championships. However, Bishop Linderman (Willard) is determined to change that. His team's star is the ultra-competitive Dennis Buckstead (Andrew Wilson), who's tired of losing to his childhood tormentors (Curt Dousett and Larry Bagby).

As you might expect, however, few, if any, of his teammates can really play. What they need is height. The burly Jeremiah Jones (Stan Ellsworth) would work in that role, but he's become disenchanted with the church and the whole church-ball concept after an earlier disappointment.

There are not as many LDS-specific jokes and references as dominated the earlier films. And co-screenwriter/director Kurt Hale has clearly learned a few things about filmmaking. (This is definitely the most professional-looking of the HaleStorm productions.)

In the lead role, Wilson — older brother of Luke and Owen — is likable, and he works well with his co-stars, who include Gary Coleman and Clint Howard.

But a little judicious pruning would have helped. A painfully unfunny subplot about Dennis' feud with one of his co-workers (local comedian Johnny Biscuit) should have been excised.

"Church Ball" is rated PG for scenes of comic violence (including some brawling and fisticuffs), some crude humor (such as a toilet gag), brief drug content (references) and some creative profanity (including bleeped-out curse words). Running time: 91 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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