'Church Ball' may be HaleStorm's last LDS comedy By Jeff Vice Deseret Morning News The sports comedy "Church Ball" follows the hapless, undersized basketball players of the Mud Lake (LDS Church) Ward team as it faces off against bigger, more talented players. Image Andrew Wilson, back center, stars as Dennis Buckstead, captain of a team of misfits in HaleStorm Entertainment's LDS comedy "Church Ball." And Kurt Hale, who co-wrote and directed the film, says he sees a lot of parallels between the Mud Lake players and his locally based production company, HaleStorm Entertainment. HaleStorm has gained some local fame after producing and distributing a string of LDS-centric comedies on low- or next-to-nothing budgets, led by "The Singles Ward," "The R.M." and "The Home Teachers." What's more, the fledgling studio booked them in theaters, going up against Hollywood films with budgets sometimes a hundred times greater. "When we started the company," Hale said during press interviews at the Jordan Commons complex, "our goal was to make people laugh and feel good about themselves — and not spend a lot of money doing it. "But we're outmanned, and we don't have Hollywood's resources. So ours is a classic David-vs.-Goliath situation. And we're starting to lose some ground." While HaleStorm's films continue to perform well on DVD, the box-office receipts have been diminishing, Hale said. Consequently, he says "Church Ball" may be the last LDS comedy HaleStorm produces. "We'll just have to see if the market really is oversaturated, if our target audience has grown tired of these movies." According to Hale, the company is planning to branch out and make films for wider audiences — but still make them family-friendly. As an example, he said that "Church Ball" features fewer Utah-culture in-jokes than usual. "We're already heading in that direction." "Church Ball" is also the most expensive film HaleStorm has produced to date, with a budget nearing $1 million. "That probably sounds pretty cheap, but for us that's huge. Hopefully people will notice a few improvements." Image Curt Doussett, left, and Clint Howard in HaleStorm's "Church Ball." Those improvements include some stars in the cast — or at least recognizable names and faces. Among those playing Mud Lake hoopsters are Clint Howard, younger brother of actor-turned-filmmaker Ron Howard (and a regular in his films), and former "Diff'rent Strokes" star Gary Coleman. And Andrew Wilson — whose younger brothers are comic actors Luke and Owen Wilson — stars as Mud Lake's captain. "I'm their big star. At least that's what I hear. But I'm not even the most famous Wilson in my family." Ironically, the script was written years ago with only one star in mind — Coleman, who plays a diminutive real-estate agent. And Coleman enjoyed the experience of making a film in Utah so much that he bought a home in Santaquin. "Every morning I wake up with a view of the mountains," Coleman said. "I have to thank Kurt for introducing me to Utah and for giving me a part in his movie." Hale and his company also received a ringing endorsement from Howard, who said he appreciates HaleStorm's efforts to produce "family-friendly" entertainment. "There are a lot of people who want to be able to see a movie without any cussing, cursing, or sex and violence. You can say it's not art, but they're out to entertain people. That's an art if you ask me."
Andrew Wilson — whose younger brothers are comic actors Luke and Owen Wilson — stars as Mud Lake's captain. "I'm their big star. At least that's what I hear. But I'm not even the most famous Wilson in my family."
Cast is game, but 'Church Ball' is no slam-dunk By Sean P. Means The Salt Lake Tribune
Church Ball Where: Area theaters. When: Opens today. Rating: PG for mild language and some rude humor. Running time: 91 minutes.
Bottom line: The director of "The Singles Ward" takes a shot at the sports-comedy genre.
Like Kurt Hale's previous Mormon comedies, such as "The Singles Ward" and "The R.M.," "Church Ball" envelops the viewer in the embrace of the familiar. People who have lived in Utah for any length of time, whether they attend church or not, know every joke about ward basketball - "the brawl that begins with a prayer" - and get to hear them again in this gently mocking movie. At the Mud Lake Church (the denomination is left deliberately vague, though locals will recognize the LDS trappings), Bishop Linderman (Fred Willard) calls upon team member Dennis Buckstead (Andrew Wilson, Owen and Luke's brother) to become coach. Mud Lake is the worst in the league, and Linderman - a former coach with a DayPlanner full of plays - wants a title before church fathers disband the league. Failing to recruit a local NBA hero (played by ex-Jazzman Thurl Bailey), Dennis assembles a group of misfit players - the most familiar faces belonging to Clint Howard (a fixture in his brother Ron's movies) and recently transplanted Utah resident Gary Coleman. Can Mud Lake create a small miracle and win against the nasty Bracken brothers (Curt Dousett and Larry Bagby), who have been Dennis' rivals since boyhood? What do you think? The plot isn't the only predictable thing in "Church Ball." The script, by Hale along with Paul Eagleston and Stephen Rose, is chock full of old jokes ranging from the cross-eyed referee to Bishop Linderman's extraneous eyepatch. Bubbling under the jokes is another staple of the sports genre: the uplifting message that team spirit - here couched in too-vague religious terms - trumps victory. The strength of "Church Ball" is its cast. Veterans such as Howard and Coleman get their moments, and Wilson is in some ways a more congenial leading man than his brothers - less snarky than Owen, more lifelike than Luke. And when all else fails, there's the always-funny Willard, playing his own game of comic one on one. ---
Andrew got top billing in the synopsis, but that's the only good thing. What do they know?
Church Ball H — PG for mild language and some rude humor. This movie is a comedy set in the world of a Mormon church basketball league. Andrew Wilson stars. Kurt Hale directs. 91 minutes. Review on Page 24. El Con
Mormon basketball flick shoots air balls and scores zero laughs
By Phil Villarreal ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Air ball . . . Air ball . . .
You're more likely to hear such a chant instead of laughter at "Church Ball," a deflated farce about a roughhousing Mormon basketball league.
Of course, good-natured moviegoers might laugh out of frustration, or at themselves for wasting good ticket money on such a dull and pointless movie.
Director Kurt Hale, whose past work includes the promising religious comedies "The R.M." and "The Home Teachers," doesn't have a prayer this time out. The film starts with the rote concept of the underdog sports flick, about a squad of talentless, unconfident losers who work their way to greatness. "Church Ball" brings nothing new to the court. Most of the jokes seem as old as the idea of the underdog sports film itself.
As for all the movie's fresh gags, the only reason they'd never been written before is because they're so wretched.
"Church Ball" manages to render impotent the comic forces of Fred Willard. The man is so intrinsically funny that he can crack up an audience without uttering a word, and he's saved many a terrible script in his days. It takes almost intentionally wretched writing to make a Willard character seem boring, but this script manages.
Willard plays Bishop Linderman, a pushy hoops fan who secretly diagrams plays while members of his congregation think he's underlining Scripture. Linderman pushes his playbook onto Dennis (Andrew Wilson), the leading player on Linderman's Mud Lake squad. Since church officials have declared this will be the final season of church ball, there's a sense of urgency.
A championship is a tall order due to the team's makeup. The best shooter swears constantly and is always drilled with technical fouls; the center would rather dunk doughnuts than basketballs; and one of the guards is played by Clint Howard. Dennis does his team no favors by enlisting a guy played by Gary Coleman to suit up. Hale seems to think it's hilarious to watch a midget attempt to play basketball. The effect instead is more weird and sad than it is funny. At least the writers spare us one of Coleman's "Whatchu talkin' 'bout" takeoffs.
Susan (Amy Stewart), Dennis' harried wife, narrates the tale of how Mud Lake rises from obscurity to contend with the seemingly unbeatable team powered by a pair of obnoxious lawyer brothers who laugh like hyenas. Susan rolls her eyes at the illogical machismo displayed during the raucous Thursday night games. Elbows are thrown, taunts are spewed and legs are tripped.
Susan wonders in a brief fantasy sequence what it would be like if the women of the church showed such competitive animosity in their side activities. Two females argue over who gets to teach a religious lesson and decide to wrestle it out.
In this scene, Hale and company manage to pull off a double play of ineffective humor. Not only is the scene too bizarre for non-Mormons to relate, it's also likely to offend some of the more uptight members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although the church is never specifically mentioned, there are copious indications that the film takes place in a Mormon world.
Though the film's official running time is only 91 minutes, it seems to run three times that long. That's an effect basketball players will recognize. When you're winning and things are going right, the game seems to fly by. But when you're down, and there's no hope, the clock takes forever to run out and exact its cold mercy.
Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or email@example.com.
Thanks QT. It's probably not that bad. Fred Willard was very pleased with the script - that's why he signed on. Just like Napolean Dynamite is not for everyone, this movie might be the same. Maybe the humor is too subtle for this guy.