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  Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, The Hoop Dreams, Seventies Style
Year: 1979
Director: Gilbert Moses
Stars: Julius Erving, Jonathan Winters, Meadowlark Lemon, Jack Kehoe, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Margaret Avery, James Bond III, Michael V. Gazzo, Peter Isacksen, Nicholas Pryor, M. Emmet Walsh, Stockard Channing, Flip Wilson, Marv Albert, Debbie Allen, Harry Shearer
Genre: Comedy, Action, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Pittsburgh basketball team, known as the Pythons, are on a terrible losing streak, they have not won a game in ages and the audience attendance has dwindled with only the diehard fans showing up to watch them fail again and again. As grumblings about wishing to be transferred erupt, the sole excellent player they have, Moses Guthrie (Julius Erving), questions his life choices, but what if there was a ray of hope on the horizon? The towel boy, Tyrone (James Bond III), has a great idea about harnessing the power of astrology for the sport, and though his sister Toby (Margaret Avery) is sceptical, he goes ahead and tracks down an astrologer, Mona Mondieu (Stockard Channing), who is prepared to help out. First? They need a new team...

Well, almost, as Moses sticks around since he was played by basketball legend Erving, and the main impetus for getting punters in to watch this movie, the novelty of seeing sports celebrities trying to act always holding a curious fascination. Needless to say, as a player he was a star, and as an actor he was a dud, but as most of this took the form of a series of basketball games it didn't matter until he was put into the position of trying to emote, whereupon you were thankful this was a comedy. Really it was the nineteen-seventies equivalent of a feelgood film, where nothing absolutely terrible was going to happen and we were asked to appreciate what amounted to almost an hour and three quarters of the triumph of the underdog: dramatic it assuredly was not.

This brought up a problem: what do you do with your sports movie when the main team essentially win every game? Because not to let them win would put a dent in the feelgood factor, of course. That team was recruited from a selection of misfits who show up for an audition purely because they have the star sign Pisces, which Mona has informed those in charge is the best method of putting together a band of winners. As one character mentions, "It's like The Gong Show" with all these eccentrics desperate to shoot hoops for their hometown crowd, and depth of personality was not much of a priority when they were all caricatures - the black militant, the Reverend (played by Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon), the Native American, the twins who play as one person, the short guy (Jack Kehoe) who is great at free throws, and so forth.

The tone was relentlessly goodnatured throughout, with only the occasional moment of reflection, but what did you expect when the cast included the likes of Jonathan Winters (as more twins, the owners of two rival teams), Flip Wilson (as the coach) and Harry Shearer (as a newsreader)? All very silly, but the smooth disco soul of Thom Bell made it go with a swing, peppering the soundtrack with what came across suspiciously like an attempt to make the tie-in album a hit, as you were nobody in Hollywood in the seventies without one of those. The Detroit Spinners even popped up as the half-time show in the big final. Also, if you were curious as to what Stockard Channing's driving face would look like, you had ample opportunity to find out as Mona escapes her kidnappers in the last act and the action keeps cutting away to a closeup of her careering along the roads like a woman possessed. Utterly disposable, about as seventies as a pet rock, but oddly endearing and able to lift the spirits with its dedication to sheer daftness.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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