Movie News & Reviews

Billy Corben’s irreverent ‘Screwball’ is a story of Sunshine State chicanery

Blake McCall as Alex Rodriguez at the plate in a scene from ‘Screwball.
Blake McCall as Alex Rodriguez at the plate in a scene from ‘Screwball.

A longer version of this review originally appeared in miamiartzine.com as part of the Miami Film Festival coverage.

In “Screwball,” director Billy Corben’s irreverent dissection of the Biogenesis baseball doping scandal, too much is just enough. The film assaults the senses with extra helpings of talking-head interviews, oodles of information and a wall-to-wall soundtrack. To top it off, this documentary features dramatic reenactments, and not the A&E kind of reenactment, either. Here, all the roles are played by kids lip syncing the first-person accounts.

“Screwball” hits the ground running by introducing its star player: medical field entrepreneur Tony Bosch, who opened Biogenesis of America near the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables. The health clinic specialized in weight loss and anti-aging treatments, but what really got the Benjamins rolling in during the early 2010s was an influx of Major League Baseball players, including at one point former New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez (Blake McCall), who used Bosch’s sneaky cocktail of human growth hormone. “Take it in micro doses,” he advises his new clients, “and you’ll pass every drug test.”

Things spiral out of control in both expected and surprising ways, as Fischer enters the picture, first as an asset to Biogenesis, then as a thorn in its path. Corben navigates the hairpin turns like a pro. He weaves a tangled web and then unpacks it in a way that even a sports-averse viewer (like yours truly) can follow the thread. The results give you a giddy high.

An MLB arbitration meeting - SCREWBALL - Courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment.png
An MLB arbitration meeting in a scene from ‘Screwball.’

The pint-sized cast in grown-up dress-up adds an absurdist dimension to Corben’s hopped-up storytelling. Kudos to the casting agent who selected McCall. He’s not just a dead ringer for A-Rod; he captures the athlete’s narcissistic aloofness with pitch-perfect precision.

As always, Corben’s most valuable gift is his ability to rope in the very people who would be the least likely to sit in front of the camera and confess their shady misdeeds. He gets these people to spill the beans, knowing it will make them susceptible to being the butt of the joke. As conflicting accounts pile up, the “Rashomon”-like cacophony forms a tapestry of resentment and entitlement that lays bare the consequences of these scoundrels’ ill-advised behavior yet also finds poignancy in their stories and even generates empathy for them.

Corben might have corporate sports in general, and the MLB suits in particular, in his cross-hairs, but his ultimate target goes beyond this world. There’s a disdain for toxic privilege, be it pertaining to class, national origin or the hand that life gives you, that propels this story, which is based on a 2013 report in the Miami New Times by Tim Elfrink. “Screwball” is a tasty portrait of Sunshine State chicanery that’s refreshingly unpretentious and fearless. The balls on this movie have nothing to do with those pitched in a diamond.

In Miami-Dade: O Cinema Miami Beach, Tower.

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