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Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/13/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/14/2009

Of all of the genres and sub-genres which we could name, few are as played-out as the sports movie. Other than focusing on different athletic events, these movies are basically all the same. We get a flawed underdog who must defy the odds to win the big game (In some of the movies, they have to fight just to be in the competition...and then they win the big game). Even the movies which want to switch things up a bit and have our hero not win in the end still look a lot like their brethren. Thus, sports movies are ripe for spoofing. Movies like Dodgeball and The Comebacks have done a fine job of making fun of sports movies. The latest entry into this satiric genre is Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach.

Seann William Scott stars in Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach as Gary Houseman, a washed-up tennis player. Gary was raised in a very competitive household where his father encouraged his sons to play tennis. After being expelled from college, Gary traveled to Mexico to play, and then returned to the U.S., finding himself in Lincoln, Nebraska. Vowing to be done with tennis, he takes a job as a custodian at a high school. But, he finds himself drawn to the school's tennis courts, where he meets tennis coach Lew Tuttle (Randy Quaid). Gary admits that he has some experience with tennis, and is asked to help with the team, which is a ragtag group of losers who have never won a match. Gary enthusiastically leaps into the task, but things quickly change when Coach Lew dies. Gary is then paired with teacher Steve Peters (A.D. Miles) to coach the team. With Coach Lew gone, will someone as crude and unorthodox as Gary be able to guide a group of high school boys to tennis perfection?

According to IMBD.com (whose information can be suspect), Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach was shot in late 2006. So, where has it been and why wasnít it released in theaters? Couldnít Seann William Scott open a movie? Unless you are totally new to the world of movies, you know where this line of questioning is going. I only had to watch a few minutes of Balls Out before I understood why no one had ever heard of it.

Taking a step back for a moment, the idea to use tennis in a sports spoof is a good one. The sport hasnít been used in that many serious movies (Wimbeldon, Match Point), so audience wonít feel as if theyíve seen it before. And tennis is often viewed as such as uppercrust and high-class sport that lampooning it should be a riot.

Given those ideas, having Balls Out give tennis the business should have been easy. Well, apparently itís much harder than it looks. The movie has the right frame of mind, as Gary is the opposite of what we would expect from a tennis player. Heís dirty, foulmouthed, and appears to be totally oblivious to the niceties of society. (He makes McEnroe look like a saint.) And, as one would expect, Seann William Scott plays this role to the hilt. He takes his Stifler character from the American Pie films and actually makes him more repulsive due to the fact that Gary doesnít seem to have any sort of hygiene regimen.

Having an obnoxious tennis coach isnít really enough to carry a movie, but at least itís something which an audience would immediately grasp. The problem with Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach is that it tries to hard to be multi-dimensional. In theory, Gary should stand out as the oddball here, but it seems that everyone in town has issues, from the principalís insane 8-year old daughter (who has the best lines in the film) to Garyís ďringerĒ to even Coach Lew himself. Inhabiting the film with so many oddball characters results in overkill, and the movie begins to lose its sense of reality. Which is a mistake, as thereís another part of the film which wants to be taken seriously. Iím not sure if the serious tone came from the writers or Director Danny Leiner, but there are some moments in the movie (such as those dealing with Coach Lewís daughter or Garyís star playerís family) which are played straight. But, these subplots also mirror things which weíve seen in straight-forward sports movies. So, the question must be asked, were these moments supposed to be funny and they simply flopped more than the other jokes in the film, or was there a mis-communication with the filmmakers in how the tone of the film would play out? Along these same lines, Garyís character isnít very well-defined. He comes across as an incredibly gross person, and yet he seems to care about others.

The bottom-line here is that Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach is simply too weird and muddled for its own good. There are some funny moments here and if you like Seann William Scott when heís playing totally unhinged characters, then youíll find something to like here. Unfortunately, the funny scenes are outnumbered by the moments where we are left scratching our heads as the movie tries to decided what wants to be. The movie plays more like a series of vignettes than a cohesive story, and the radical shifts in tone and level of humor makes the movie difficult to absorb. Itís like Stifler from American Pie thrown into the middle of Rushmore and Napoleon Dynamite. Itís a good thing that the recently released Role Models was a surprise hit for Scott, as Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach joins Mr. Woodcock and The Promotion as recent films of his which were barely released.

Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach volleys onto DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image doesnít show any distracting grain, and itís fairly sharp, but it has an overall flatness which is difficult to describe. It doesnít necessarily look like VHS quality, but it has a low-budget look, like weíre watching a copy and not something taken directly from a master. The colors are never bright and thereís no crispness to the image. However, artifacting and video noise are kept to a minimum. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo and surround effects are quite good, given the questionable quality of the video. The stereo effects work well with the tennis matches and some crowd scenes. Likewise, any scene with a crowd, or especially the scene at the school dance, provide good surround sound effects. However, subwoofer effects are at a minimum.

The Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach DVD only has a few extras. The DVD has six DELETED SCENES which run about 6 minutes. Most of these are simply moments which were cut out of scenes already in the film, and most are forgettable except for the final one. There is a 2-minute reel of OUTTAKES. "Tennis Anyone?: The Making of Balls Out" (11 minutes) is a fairly good featurette which contains comments from the actors and the screenwriters. The writers give a little background on the story and the actors talk about the production, including the tennis training.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long