[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hen it comes to any transformative aspect of living whether it be realizing you’re an adult or what being a certain kind of person has an impact on your life, there’s a fun question that’s often attached, asked frequently by strangers or acquaintances or therapists. For me, it’s, “When did you first realize you were not athletic?”
At that point, I recount my varied antagonistic history with sports, primarily my desire to avoid them. In any form.
But, I do get some pleasure out of sports films. Rarely, but it’s been known to happen. (A League of Their Own is a favorite.) They’re easy and formulaic and rarely so specific about the sport that they’re inaccessible. I don’t have to know the ins and outs of baseball to get the appeal of The Bad News Bears. Yet, there’s a certain line where a sports film becomes overly familiar with its formula rather than make its subject more appealing to its audience. Hence, the primary issue of Save Your Legs! (2012), a quaint Australian film about cricket.
Cricket, unlike soccer, football, boxing, golf, curling, rugby, and ping pong, often takes a back seat in terms of universal recognition. One sole encounter with the sport was on a TV featurette on the Disney Channel, where a young man explained the rules and purpose of the sport. Save Your Legs! Does very little to improve selling cricket to the public. And while this may or may not come as a surprise, the film is far less about cricket than it is following around the Australian players, watching them as they become embroiled in hijinks.
Teddy Brown (Stephen Curry) is realizing that his best mates, Rick (Brendan Cowell) and Stavros (Damon Gameau) are no longer in the same place he is, that being still obsessed with sports in a fairly adolescent manner. So, he takes his friends, and their cricket club to India.
What this film does have to offer, is stylishness, although it’s almost completely uncalled for. While it doesn’t not fit within the context of the film, the formal elements that call attention to itself (cinematography that shimmers, editing that’s polished like a music video, graphics to present whimsy), they do seem, to some degree, gratuitous. Perhaps this is director Boyd Hickins’ attempt to make cricket marketable? I suppose, in this manner – albeit a very superficial one at that – there’s a vaguely intriguing quality to it. But my problem is not that he’s trying to sell it, it’s just that Hickins tries to make cricket interesting by blending it in with other sports. So the game montages we see, edited so one hears the crack of the bat one after the other, are “nice” but, essentially, bland. There’s nothing unique or singular about the way cricket is portrayed in the film.
The same can be said of its characters, none of whom really register as more than archetypes. While Stephen Curry, perhaps best known for the Australian drama series The Secret Life of Us, seems game for most of the crasser elements of the film, his character of Teddy seems woefully underwritten and he never is able to bring the depth he wants to exhibit to the character. It seems dismissive to say this, but these characters are basically man-children to varying degrees. If this weren’t problematic enough, none of them really have any idiosyncrasies to make their characters fuller and more human. They fill their characters’ shoes and read their lines well, but never stand out. It’s all very bro-y, but lazy.
And more problematic is the film’s racial content. It is, shall we say, “playfully racist”, relaying the kind of jokes that are more stupid than outright offensive. Again, here, the writing seems lazy, with its situations barely worthy of what Robin Williams called “the PC hiss”. Much of the film takes place throughout India, and while it’s lovingly shot, it’s hard to escape the fact that the exoticism that it presents is for novelty, not for pathos or exploration. Its attempt to bite is toothless. Its attempt to be exotic is flavorless.
The film’s biggest issue is that it’s too generic. We never really get a sense of what exactly makes this sport so special, despite its several attempts to do so through exposition. The teamwork is there, the passion for the game is there, camaraderie is present, but why should we care about this sports movie if all it’s doing is mimicking the rest of them?