Writer-director-producer-editor Rick Greenwald’s good-natured documentary chronicles the ups and downs – mostly downs – of the California Institute of Technology’s basketball team, a strong contender for the title of losingest team ever.
It isn’t exactly surprising that Caltech isn’t renowned for its athletic accomplishments: Regularly ranked among the top five academic institutions in the world, it offers no athletic scholarships and the big men on campus are Nobel prize-winners – the faculty and alumni ranks are lousy with them – not quarterbacks. It’s common knowledge that pretty much anyone who shows up for the first day of practice can make the basketball team – the Beavers (named for “nature’s engineers”) – and that high school valedictorians regularly outnumber high school hoopsters; several players on the 2006 team, whose last five weeks of games Greenwald follows, had never played at all. And even in the context of Caltech’s generally unloved scholar-athletes, basketball players were second-class citizens: They didn’t even have a gym until the 1950s – home games were played at a church several miles away. One promising season was derailed when the team’s star player accidentally inhaled poisonous gas in chemistry lab, the sort of mishap that doesn’t bedevil schools where student athletes rarely bother to attend class, let alone participate. So yes, the Caltech Beavers are the uber-underdogs. They’re also surprisingly charming – perhaps the best of the best among math and science nerds lack the poorly socialized arrogance of their lesser bretheren: Several Caltech students and alumni allude to the shock of being the smartest kids in their high schools and finding themselves average students at Caltech. Or maybe amateur athletic programs really do build character, especially stripped of the cutthroat commercialism that characterizes programs at schools where jocks rule. In any event, Greenwald’s subjects are personable, funny and self-effacing – you’d never know they were world class brainiacs if their names weren’t coupled with daunting majors and/or professional accomplishments. Even the bad apples -- like the astonishingly named Huckleberry Seed, who dropped out to become a professional gambler -- are impressive.
The film is flawed: Even at a modest 85 minutes, it feels padded, and the final game of the season – the will they or won’t they finally win one climax – feels interminable. But the combination of David Duchovny’s wry narration (the X-Files star was both a whiz quid and a high-school basketball player) and the genuine charm of Greenwald’s subjects is pretty tough to resist.
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- Released: 2008
- Rating: NR
- Review: Writer-director-producer-editor Rick Greenwald’s good-natured documentary chronicles the ups and downs – mostly downs – of the California Institute of Technology’s basketball team, a strong contender for the title of losingest team ever. It isn’t exactl… (more)