Revisiting "Celtic Pride," Judd Apatow's Extremely '90s NBA Playoffs/Kidnapping Comedy
Twenty years ago, a pre-genius Judd Apatow wrote a dark comedy in which superfans Daniel Stern and Dan Aykroyd kidnap Utah Jazz star Damon Wayans. It has...aged.
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The Boston Celtics are no longer in the NBA Playoffs, but their future is promising. They have one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, a promising young core that includes Isaiah "2-A" Thomas and Evan "Meatwad" Turner, a wealth of cap space, and a boatload of first-round picks, including what should be a very high one from the Brooklyn Nets.
That said, they're still the Celtics, which means that Opinionated Toilet Brush Dan Shaughnessy is passive-aggressively lobbying for Stevens' dismissal, and that fans want more from the team's hyperspeed rebuild than they've already gotten. This is just how it goes when you're accustomed to a certain level of success. It can become hard not to want even more, to the point where your love of the team and a psychotic break are hard to differentiate from each other. It's enough to make even a reasonable fan consider kidnapping Damon Wayans.
Twenty years ago, a very young Judd Apatow wrote a screenplay, based upon a story he developed with Colin Quinn, about how fandom can turn into a disease. More specifically, a disease whose only cure is kidnapping the a-hole star of the team's superior rivals. The resulting film, Celtic Pride, is not very good, and all but signaled the end of above-the-title viability for all three of its stars—Damon Wayans, Daniel Stern, and Dan Aykroyd. That said, Celtic Pride is a unique look into the stank fishbowl that bred the Bill Simmons-es and Christopher Mintz-Plasse-s of our world. It's an environment in which sports matter more than family, the name on the back of your enemy's jersey matters more than the name on the front of your favorite team's, and everyone involved is caught in suspended animation as the worst 14-year-old imaginable.
Damon Wayans, Sr. is Lewis Scott, the dickish superstar of your, um, Utah Jazz. This alternate universe Jazz team lacks Karl Malone, John Stockton or Jerry Sloan, but is coached by Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore, so they have that going for them. They are a win away from an NBA championship, until Mike O'Hara (Daniel Stern) and Jimmy Flaherty (Dan Aykroyd) get Scott drunk and accidentally kidnap Blankman, as one does. Their friend/stereotypical Irish-American cop (Paul Guilfoyle) catches wind of this plan, and does the right thing: investing his life savings on WORLD CHAMPION BOSTON CELTICS memorabilia, then threatening to squeal on O'Hara and Flaherty if the Celtics lose. Meanwhile, Lewis "Totally Not Charles Barkley If He Were Played By Damon Wayans" Scott threatens to squeal on them if the Celtics win. He also makes them wear vintage Utah Jazz gear to the final game in Boston Garden's history, as if dressing up like Mark Eaton was sort of punishment.
Celtic Pride has a promising enough premise, if also one that is effectively squandered by the sheer mid-90's-ness of it all. Even for a city that was over half Caucasian in 2000, the Boston depicted in this movie is almost blindingly lily-white, and 99.999% Cartoonish Irish-American, to the point where the 1995-ish Celtics have only one person of color on the court at any given moment, who is certainly neither Dominique Wilkins nor Dee Brown. It could be worse, but when TV freaking Guide calls your movie out for "rather disturbing racial implications [that] go entirely unacknowledged" in a review otherwise rife with dated Braveheart jokes, you might have to check yourself. We also get "Utah Jazz = Mormon" humor and a master course from Dan Aykroyd in half-hearted/half-embarrassed prison rape jokes. If you're among the small and extremely un-selective fraternity of people who actually saw Celtic Pride in your youth, it might have creeped you out for unclear reasons. Those reasons are much easier to identify today.
Darrell Hammond has a small if pivotal role as Chris McCarthy, the fan our heroes seek out whenever a Boston sports team fucks up, and who we can assume has been in a coma since late 2004. Needless to say, Hammond's presence in the middle of Act I presages an epic Game 6 collapse on the part of that nameless, almost all-white Celtics team. It also sets the stage for Game 7 drama that is actually moderately earned. Christopher McDonald is the secret MVP of Celtic Pride, as frazzled Utah Jazz coach [He Presumably Has A First Name] Kimball, while Bob Cousy has less to do here than he did in the American classic Blue Chips. There is a more charming than humorous scene at a nightclub in which our heroes have to insult Larry Bird in front of his face to impress Scott, and Larry just has to stand there and take their crap. In short, Larry Bird has a lot in common with Gail O'Grady, who as Daniel Stern's wife threatens divorce due to his all-encompassing fandom and not for, like, kidnapping somebody.
It's not anyone's fault that the lovable losers of Celtic Pride come from a city whose sports luck has so drastically turned for the better in the years since the film was made. But four Super Bowls, three World Series, and a Stanley Cup later, Boston doesn't have the same hard luck rep of Houston, Buffalo, or Philadelphia. Tell someone from Cleveland that you're a long suffering Boston Celtics fan and you can look forward to being on the wrong end of a richly deserved felony assault. And, frankly, these characters had to have been alive for almost all of the Celtics' sixteen NBA titles in the years prior to Celtic Pride; depending on their bad habits/aversion to exercise, they should have been alive for the one the team would win in 2008. While the Celts experienced genuine tragedy in the losses of Len Bias in 1986 and Reggie Lewis in 1993, there is no hint here of any such anguish. Or, really, of any human emotion beyond standard Boston-fan pissiness.
At the end, after the Utah Jazz (spoiler alert) win because Damon Wayans channels his inner Ryan Arcidiacano and makes the Finals-clinching assist to an Eastern European named Lurch, our two heroes kidnap Deion Sanders before the Super Bowl. This final scene probably means they'll wind up having to root for the Dallas Cowboys to defeat the New England Patriots in a Super Bowl matchup that likely sounded much better twenty years ago than it does today. I almost want a Celtic Pride 2016 to happen—or, if Dan Aykroyd is in charge of this, Celtic Pride 2000—just so at least two Boston fans have to root against Tom Brady and know how the rest of America feels. If Judd Apatow approves, he already has a real-life unhinged Celtics fan in his stock company, in the form of the aforementioned McLovin to team up with Bill Simmons in their quest to incapacitate Steph Curry.
Celtic Pride is an uneven and mostly un-funny effort, but does have some decent moments and is also refreshingly light on the Irish-sounding music, although the Irish-Canadian band The Mahones does deliver a half-hearted title song as the Boston Garden is (fictionally) imploded during the credits. That the Garden lasted two full years after Celtic Pride was released before it was finally dismantled is a testament to its legacy as a venerable New England institution; if it could survive the Pitino Administration, it could sure survive a scene in which Damon Wayans' crotch is doused in gasoline. The Garden felt pretty antique by the end, but never quite as dated as Celtic Pride.