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Canuxploitation!

Oddballs

1984, Starring Foster Brooks, Konnie Krome, Jason Sorokin, Wally Wodchis, Michael MacDonald. Directed by Miklos Lente.



Every once in a while, you come across a unique film. A film that transcends superficial labels like "good" and "bad" to exist on a whole other plane of artistic endeavor. Perhaps they should be known as " outsider movies," since they not only break all the rules of conventional filmmaking, it seems like they never knew any existed in the first place. Oddballs is one such unique film. It not only set up camp in the shady area between brilliant and insane, it started an "arts and crafts" table and a game of crab soccer.

Oddballs is the only directorial effort by Miklos Lente, an NFB cinematographer who graduated to feature films in the 1970s, and has lensed such Canuxploitation classics as Happy Birthday to Me (1981) and Bedroom Eyes (1984), as well as the original "balls" rip-off Screwballs (1983). This last experience must have inspired him to begin working on his own take on the Meatballs series, because within a year, Oddballs, an original summer camp film, appeared on the scene. While the Canadian screwball comedies have been called many things, "original" is not usually one of them, but in this case, it's one of the few ways to properly describe this completely baffling piece of celluloid.

Foster Brooks, in his "loveable drunk" persona, stars as Hardy Bassett, a perpetually tanked grouch who became owner of "Camp Bottomout" in a poker game ("I lost," he says). His 18-year old daughter Jennifer is also on board as Social Director to ensure that Hardy's hatred for ankle-biting children and his love of firearms are never mixed in the wrong combination. And who would've thought that perennial Canadian comic Mike McDonald would star in not one, not two, but a mind-rattling three of these movies? While he played the hard-ass authority figure in both Screwballs II and Recruits, here he lets loose as camp counselor Laylo Nordeen, a comedically sleazy, yet otherwise identical, "tribute" to Bill Murray's Tripper Harrison, right down to the clothing they wear.

But our hero here is Chris Watson, a camper new to Bottomout. He is brought into the fold by camp veterans Eggbert (he's known as Odd) and " Francois," another kid who uses a French accent to pick up girls. Spying the girl's camp across the river, there's the standard "lose our virginity by the end of camp" pact made. Capitalizing on the moment, Laylo fleeces the hormone-charged boys for five bucks apiece with a book he wrote on how to pick up girls. There's even a "field trip" to The Meat Rack, a singles bar where he provides 12-year olds with fake IDs and mustaches. Standard sex comedy stuff? Sure, but in this case, it's all just dressing on the turkey. While most screwball films would be content to focus on the virginity pact, Oddballs quickly discards this part of the story and starts looking for it's fun elsewhere.

The actual main plot of Oddballs involves the director of the girl's camp, J. Frothingham Skinner, who wants to purchase the boy's camp and turn it into a mall. Unaware that Hardy is as desperate to sell as he is to buy, Skinner hatches a plan his dim-witted son Chadwick will seduce Hardy's daughter Jennifer. Only Chadwick doesn't know what seduce means, and the audience doesn't know what this love connection will accomplish. After failing two or three times, he finally convinces the object of his affection to go to the end-of-summer dance where the boy's and girl's camps will finally meet.

But complicating matters, young Chris is in love with not-so-young Jennifer. After a series of uneasy meetings (made even more awkward by actress Konnie Krome's abhorrent acting performance), Jennifer breaks the news that their age difference is too great, and she only likes him as a friend. Later, when Chris learns that Chadwick is going to drug Jennifer to consummate his unrequited love, he springs into action unfazed. He switches the drug (a jar simply labeled "drug") with antacid. Unfortunately, it's too late Hardy has already sold out Bottomout. He pockets Skinner's cheque for a cool $300,000, but when the campers give him puppy eyes the next day, Hardy decides to get back his campgrounds. How? Well, let's just say it involves Chris, a car chase, and a very large cake.

But this simple plot outline can hardly do the film justice. What makes this film such a unique experience is the proliferation of "hilarious" gags to watch Oddballs is to submit yourself to an unstoppable barrage of jokes. And every kind of joke too juvenile and sophisticated humour, in both good and bad taste, encompassing verbal and visual puns, slapstick, broad satire, " wacky" characterization and more. Taken one by one, each joke might rate only a smirk, but you'll often find yourself laughing at the pure outlandish and insane juxtaposition of these gags. It just has an overwhelming effect in which you can't begin to anticipate what might come next. Imagine if Ed Wood directed an Abrahams-Zucker produced episode of classic Canadian kids show You Can't do that on Television on speed, and you'll get some idea at how Oddballs oozes inspired nonsense to produce a baffling effect that must be experienced to be believed.

Some of the more memorable bits that fly at you include a blind bus driver, campers kicking each other in the balls to visit the sexy nurse, parodies of ET, Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, The Ten Commandments, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, a real alligator Izod shirt, a kid with a spinning beanie cap who repeatedly throws bricks at Hardy, the Men's Room filled with naked men until a bright young camper uses his marker to change it to "Women's Room" with predicable results, green potatoes in the mess hall, a "stag" film called "Alonzo, Stag of the North," an insane flashback Hardy attributes to his glue sniffing, and even a scene for "art film fans" that rips off the subtitle gag from Annie Hall but degenerates into sexually suggestive non-sequiturs that Skinner's outraged secretary can read off the screen. And if that wasn't enough, each gag is accompanied by "wacky" slide whistle sound effects!

Unlike many of the other screwball comedies, it seems like everyone actually tried to make Oddballs an enjoyable film. It's not completely devoid of craftsmanship, and while Mike McDonald isn't particularly funny, Foster Brooks really rises to the occasion as Hardy Bassett ("that's b-Bas-say"!). Perfectly cast as the alcoholic misanthrope with a heart of gold, Brooks even manages to keep his dignity through the repeated bricks that bounce off his head. It's a wonder he never appeared in more films.

The only real mystery about this film is who it might be aimed towards. It seems like a pre-teen film, but many of the drug and child molesting jokes (!) would be over kid's heads. Similarly, Oddballs is the mildest of all the screwball comedies, nowhere near raunchy enough to interest teens browsing for films with illicit nudity at the video store, and adults would find this much too juvenile even to begin to enjoy. With something to offend and confuse everyone, perhaps it exists purely for a demographic not yet imagined. But then again, so do most of Canada's art house films, so there's no reason why you shouldn't sit down at the arts and crafts table and start work on your faked ID.


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