Tosser, wanker, arsehole, prick... Not Mel Smith, but the hardy perennials of a screenwriter desperate for laughs. Blame Richard Curtis, whose "fuck" opening for Four Weddings And A Funeral showcased the chuckle-tugging power of the well-placed expletive. The well-placed expletive. Not bloody everywhere.
Blackball largely relies on the word "tosser". Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) is an amiable, well, tosser who ekes out a living assisting his grandfather's (Bernard Cribbins) painting and decorating business, passing his leisure hours playing bowls on any scrap of grass he can find. Ray Speight (James Cromwell) is an uptight tosser who scuppers the whiz kid's chances of playing for England. Rick Schwartz (Vince Vaughn) is an American tosser who (ahem) bowls up and offers to turn Cliff into a star - the international bad boy of bowls. Tosser, tosser, tosser. Laughing yet?
You will - just not a lot. Kaye makes a surprisingly engaging lead given his thin character and Johnny Vegas is excellent as his beer-swilling, pot-bellied sidekick (naturally). Vaughn, too, is intrinsically funny, relishing the role of a smart, smarmy shark whose capitalist fervour leads to Cliff's all-too-predictable personal problems. These `problems' form Blackball's spindly emotional backbone as our hero's swelling ego isolates him from best mate, granddad and girlfriend (Alice Evans) as he prepares to face his nemeses - the Aussie world champions...
If this sounds familiar, it's because the story steals from every sports movie ever made. The game changes, the clichés stay the same and the treatment is fatally prosaic. There isn't a single surprising element in the script - not a scene, line or character that provides anything remotely unexpected.
Blackball feels half-formed and only perfunctorily thought-through. Especially when it comes to the bowling matches, which descend into seemingly endless montage sequences of Cliff juggling, flicking and throwing his bowls. The script asks us to believe bowls can be sexy, before proving it can't: a problem that helmer Mel Smith never solves.
Mel Smith movies are critical kryptonite and this is no exception. You'll have a few laughs, but Vince Vaughn and Johnny Vegas can't compensate for the shonky script.