The performance-enhancing drug scandals that rocked Major League Baseball are the stuff of tragic comedy.
I’d love to see an Adam McKay (“The Big Short,” “Vice”) or a Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”) do a feature film about the PED madness, from the 1998 home run race between superhero-bodied Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa; to Barry Bonds racking up cartoonish stats as everything about him, even his HEAD, ballooned unnaturally; through the hypocrisy-filled congressional hearings; to the suspensions of stars such as Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez and Bartolo Colon.
In the meantime, we have “Screwball,” an admirably ambitious, offbeat documentary about the 2013 doping scandal and, in particular, the phony Florida “doctor’ and inveterate con man as well as the other assorted lowlifes who were at the center of a PED scandal involving not only the legendary A-Rod, but a number of college and even high school players.
The talented director Billy Corben swings for the fences and takes a decidedly creative approach, but unfortunately, he devotes far too many at-bats to one particular stylistic choice. Either you’ll find it original and funny and suitably outlandish, or, like me, you’ll grow weary of the technique.
Anthony Bosch, who looks and sounds like a cross between Michael Cohen and Anthony Scaramucci, provides much of the narrative for the story, often laughing at his own stories as he throws everyone, including himself, under the bus.
Armed with credentials, so to speak, from the “Central America Health Sciences University at Belize Medical College” — in other words, he wasn’t a doctor but he played one on TV — Bosch opened a clinic and offered services and systems ranging from weight-loss programs and anti-aging solutions and growth hormones, to the injection of supposedly state-of-the-art, nearly undetectable micro doses of steroids.
As Tony begins to weave his tale, we cut to a kid in a doctor’s lab coat, who lip-syncs to Tony’s narration.
OK, so this child actor is portraying Tony — not as a kid, but as an adult. It’s as if we’ve been dropped into some sort of docudrama tribute to “Bugsy Malone.”
Turns out we’re going to see this gimmick throughout the movie, with child actors sporting wigs and glued-on facial hair as they strut about, re-enacting various incidents and mouthing the words of the adults telling the story. Even weirder, some of the children really look like the grown-ups they’re playing, e.g., the kid portraying A-Rod has similar facial features.
At times “Screwball” is riveting, as we hear the amazing and insanely goofy but also sad story of how Bosch gets involved with the likes of the Carbone brothers, who ran a tanning salon in Boca Raton, and how he eventually provided his services to Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, as well as the desperate parents of teenage athletes looking to give their children a competitive edge.
But every time director Corben cuts to one of those re-enactments featuring child actors, the story loses momentum.
It’s weird enough to see kids playing disgraced baseball players and muscled-up tough guys — but when Tony tells a supposedly hilarious story about a nightclub misadventure, and we cut to a scene in which children are portraying the DJ, the club-goers and even dancers in skimpy outfits, no thanks.
For all its creativity and cheekiness, “Screwball” is often most impactful when it takes a more traditional path, e.g., footage of a defiant Rodriguez storming out of his arbitration hearing in 2013 and heading straight to the WFAN radio studios in New York, where he delivered a self-pitying on-air rant, saying he should not “serve an inning” of his 211-game suspension.
When the grown men often act like children, it feels like overkill to have children portraying the grown men.
Greenwich Entertainment presents a documentary directed by Billy Corben. No MPAA rating. Running time: 105 minutes. Now showing at Facets Cinematheque.