Deadball is- well, maybe that’s the best place to start. Deadball simply is. Even days after watching the movie, the fact that Deadball exists is nothing short of amazing. Not because the movie itself is shocking, but because I’m still trying to figure out… why? I mean, I know a blame lot of swill I sit through on the Hollywood machine, but with a Sushi Typhoon production, a miniscule budget and no theatrical distribution in the US, it doesn’t seem to blame this one on Hollywood.
I guess at the heart of my distaste for the movie is my confusion over what it is exactly. On paper, it is the story of a young man, Jubeh, who is sent to juvenile detention and forced to play in a brutal blood sport for his freedom. Compelling stuff, if not entirely original. What does director Yudai Yamaguchi give to his audience instead? It’s like a prison production of A league of Their Own. It’s an episode of Looney Tunes with the body count of an Eli Roth film. It’s Battle Royale without the cutting social commentary. The main difference is I would watch all of those things and more before I ever tried to sit through Deadball again.
Truth be told, the film feels like Yamaguchi thought of the gags first, with all other elements of the narrative secondary to the lame attempts at humor. The only jokes that seem to land are when the director seems to acknowledge the lunacy and the failings of his own film. One of the recurring bits in Deadball is protagonist Jubeh’s ability to seemingly pull a cigarette out of nowhere… which he does at several points in the film. Another is when Jubeh basically says to the villain of Deadball that the characters are nothing but the butt of some lame jokes. The only problem is, none of those minor laughs can overcome the central failings of the film.
Take, for example, the main character Jubeh, who is so good at baseball… that he kills people. The trauma of killing his father with a deadly fastball is so great that he vows to never play ball again. Powerful stuff, right? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. Or the opposing team that plays against him, which the film would have you believe are the villains but really serve as minor distractions that look more like an Asian edition of The Pussycat Dolls than antagonists? Somewhere in there, there’s something about Jubeh’s younger brother… who is now, like, a bad Iron Man or something? I don’t know, I didn’t really get that one… plus, there’s something about Nazis? That one felt pretty out of place. Still, my favorite is the villain of “the Governor” who Jubeh hates for his wrongdoing… but mainly cuz he’s gay. What’s the fun of a wild, bloodbath romp if you don’t throw a little bit of senseless homophobia in there? The trouble is, I was never sure if the lunacy was supposed to be amazing or if I was just missing something? It didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Then again, I’m pretty okay with it not making sense. In order for me to make sense of it, I’d probably have to watch Deadball again and that’s not about to happen. Instead, I’ll let it continue to fester in my mind’s eye as a nonsensical jumble of juvenile, gross out humor. With a few memorable moments that are worth a laugh, Deadball is more miss than hit.