To the American sport-watching public, professional bowlers have as much household-name recognition as professional dart players or brands of vegan snack foods. So the prospects of a documentary exposing the exploits of the quintessential blue-collar athlete seem questionable, if not laughable. Though uneven, A League of Ordinary Gentlemen, helmed by first-time director Christopher Browne, adeptly chronicles the 20-week road to the 2003 Professional Bowlers Association World Championship and the men for whom bowling isn't just a profession, but also a lifestyle.
The idea of bowlers as professional athletes is always good for a chuckle. The image of middle-aged, Old Milwaukee-swillin', Taurus-driving Flintstones heaving balls down waxed hardwood between bites of stale nachos hardly compares to even the air-ballingest of NBA pine sitters. In 1997, after a 35-year relationship, ABC television axed the PBA from its broadcast schedule due to microscopic ratings, effectively putting the league in flux and leaving its players to ponder the financial and social values of their profession. At the end of the day, A League of Ordinary Gentlemen won't spur lanky kids to trade in their sneaks for worn-out bowling shoes, but it does deliver a thoughtful, thorough glimpse into the evolving world of American sports entertainment and a dying piece of Americana trying desperately to keep from landing in the billions-dollar-strong industry's unforgiving gutters. And honestly, where else can you suck down a pitcher of beer, wear funny shoes and still call it a sport? Okay, besides the 19th hole of your municipal golf course.
A League of Ordinary Gentlemen will be released March 21.
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Also recommended this week: Good Night, and Good Luck; A History of Violence.