When fans lose control Movie review: 'Celtic Pride' shows basketball fans at their most fanatic, but misses chance to say anything serious. Boston Garden serves in a supporting role.

April 19, 1996|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

"Celtic Pride" is about men who know what's important in life: not careers, which they've blown, or families, which they've abandoned, or happiness, which eludes them forever. No, what's truly important is the success of 12 mercenary millionaires playing a game for sheer profit and shoe company commercials. Is this a great country or what?

The movie, which makes some nifty points about the irrationality of passion devoted to professional athletics, is only semi-funny, however, and only semi-convincing. It is at its worst when Damon Wayans steps onto the basketball court and tries to represent himself as a pro-caliber athlete. This is possible only by 'u surrounding him with a bunch of schlubs who look even more graceless than he, and it's a total waste of the Boston Garden, which played itself in a last hurrah before the wrecking ball did its thing.

The movie is fundamentally set in the heads of two fanatical Celtics fans, who have no other lives. If Boston loses a fictitious NBA final, Mike O'Hara (Daniel Stern) and Jimmy Flaherty (Dan Aykroyd) are convinced, the moral order of the universe will be upset.

It will be positively shattered if the instrument of the Celtics' destruction is the great Lewis Scott (Wayans) of the Utah Jazz, a guard who represents all the gauche tastelessness that's supplanted Celtic tradition: He's selfish, self-aggrandizing, loud and a showboat. But when he gets hot, he seems to shoot on infrared, and the ball falls through the hoop with the grace of a descending ICBM come to end the Celtics' world in fire.

There's a racial underlay here, too: Scott clearly represents what might be called an African-American playground basketball aesthetic, with a full repertoire of in-your-face moves and rolling chocolate thunder phi-slamma-jamma dunks, which have largely supplanted the classic Celtic brand of "white" basketball, with its set plays, its role playing, its teamwork. Now that's really an interesting topic, but you would think it was radioactive so frantically does "Celtic Pride" flee from any mention of it. It's too busy trying to be funny.

After a sixth game, in which Scott's one-man heroics light up the Celts and pull it out for the Jazz, setting up the inevitable seventh, Jimmy and Mike find themselves in a bar with the celebrating player. They suck up to him, get him (and themselves) drunk and the next morning realize they've kidnapped him. That's him, tied up with duct tape in the rec room. They reason that if they hold him, there's no way the Jazz can triumph in the seventh game and resolve to keep him in the basement until Celtic glory is once again re-established. It doesn't bother them a whit that the "victory" would be meaningless under those circumstances.

The charm of the movie is that both the angry black ballplayer and the bumbling white fools make an interesting discovery: that the devil they thought they knew turns out to be a pretty decent guy up close and personal. It perhaps sentimentalizes a fundamentally criminal act into an innocuous trip in male bonding, but the movie truth is that as a three some, Aykroyd, Stern and Wayans really click.

Watching them squabble and ruminate on sports and the emptiness of lives devoted to them is delightful, occasionally quite hilarious, particularly as Wayans' waspish superiority lays bare the delusions of the two wannabes, even as he's realizing that they're just idiots, not Klansmen.

And the movie has a nice twist at the end: In order to stay out of jail, the two Celtic-green bleeders have got to go to that seventh game in Jazz purple and root for him, where they learn quickly how arbitrary team "commitment" is at the pro level. In the end, they are genuinely pulling for him as are we.

Alas, no other aspect of the film is convincing and much of it seems slapdash. Among the messy subplots: A $100,000 half-court shot for Aykroyd, thrown in just to eat up some time; Stern's unconvincing domestic crisis (with NYPD's Gail O'Grady); a larcenous buddy cop who hopes to turn their crime to his profit.

Worse, there's no sense at all of pro culture, despite the Garden and 18,000 extras. That famous parquet floor deserved a better send-off!

'Celtic Pride'

StarringDamon Wayans, Dan Aykroyd and Daniel Stern

Directed byTom De Cherchio

Released by Hollywood Films

Rated PG

Sun Score: **

Pub Date: 4/19/96

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