There are some deep, hearty, tear-soaked laughs to be found in Intramural, a new comedy from director Andrew Disney, who bottled up his love of movies like Wet Hot American Summer and Hot Rod and then dumped it all over this silly sports spoof about a group of losers who long to win the most meaningless football games.
Every square inch of the underdog sports movie is tossed into a joke blender and then distributed to a young, up-and-coming ensemble full of sketch-comedy veterans who feast on deconstructing a genre that’s full of cheesy, emotional stories meant to tug at your bro heartstrings. Most of it works, too, mining laughs from decades worth of sports-movie clichés, and while they could’ve gone even further with the concept (and the comedy), the results feel fresh and fun, and completely worth your time.
The set up in simple: Caleb (Jake Lacy) manages to propel his freshman intramural football team to a championship win against their disgustingly bro-tastic rivals, lead by Saturday Night Live‘s Beck Bennett, whose baddie is this amazing amalgamation of every over-the-top teen movie villain ever. But the win comes at the expense of Caleb’s good friend Grant (Nick Kocher), who makes the big winning catch but finds himself paralyzed from the balls down. The accident shatters friendships, and the movie picks up a few years later during their senior year of college, where Caleb is settling down with his ridiculously over-protective girlfriend, whose rich, successful father is primed to set Caleb on a course for success.
Naturally events make it so Caleb reconsiders his relationship, as well as intramural football, and before you know it he’s getting the old team back together in order to take one more shot at the championship before they all graduate and move on to adult life. Along the way there’s another girl (Nikki Reed) who complicates things for Caleb, and the villains they squared off against years ago are back and badder (and weirder, and more absurd) than ever, having added an ex-NFL player to their roster. Can Caleb rise up to the occasion and find the guts to live the life he wants versus the life he needs? What do you think?
At times Intramural may be a little too aware of the joke its telling (there are multiple scenes featuring characters literally breaking down the rules of the underdog sports genre in order to make sure they hit them all), but the delivery still works. The jokes still make you laugh even if you see them coming from a mile away. There are also moments where it feels like Caleb isn’t part of the joke; he’s too aware of the foolishness going on around him. What really makes a movie like Wet Hot American Summer work is that everyone goes all in on the joke. Having one character question things sort of pulls you out.
That said, everyone is clearly having a ball here. Part of this has to do with how comfortable they are with the genre itself and how enjoyable poking fun at it is, but credit is also due to an ensemble full of guys (and girls) who know how to deliver the goods. (I’d be remiss in not giving a shout out to D.C. Pierson and Jay Pharoah, who steal scenes as two sports announcers who aren’t in a booth or anything; they’re just two dudes sitting in the stands calling the play-by-play to each other.)
Intramural is the kind of goofball comedy we need more of, especially during a time where “spoof” equals dozens of random pop-culture references instead of a deep love and understanding of a specific genre and the mechanics that make it successful. It may not become this instant classic, but Intramural definitely has “cult hit” tattooed across its balls…er, footballs.
Intramural is currently screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and does not have a release date. For more coverage from the Tribeca Film Festival, head here.