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Friday, April 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Church Ball": Faith-based plot shoots for laughs

Special to The Seattle Times

I have no idea whether Fred Willard is a Mormon, but thanks to his signature glib charm he plays one effortlessly as coach of an inept basketball team in "Church Ball," a carefree, underdog sports comedy.

Wearing an eye patch that he conveniently flips up when he wants to see more clearly, Willard is Bishop Linderman, whose blundering-but-kind-hearted Mud Lake squad is facing the final season of a 20-year losing streak. The church leagues were organized "to strengthen the body, invigorate the mind and cultivate brotherly love," but the games have disintegrated into unsportsmanlike brawls.

There's no overt message of Mormonism, just subtle references to faith and even a few cheerful self-reflexive jabs at church teachings. The intentional bleeps over bad words uttered by one lapsed team member is a nice touch in lightening the religiosity. This may be a faith-based movie, but it never takes itself too seriously.

Movie review 2.5 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Church Ball," with Fred Willard, Andrew Wilson, Clint Howard, Gary Coleman. Directed by Kurt Hale, from a screenplay by Hale, Paul Eagleston and Stephen Rose. 91 minutes. Rated PG for mild language and some rude humor. Several theaters.

The rest of the cast is a funny assortment of has-beens and never-will-bes. Clint Howard has his meatiest role in ages as the short, devout team player whose bigger goal is to help the curser overcome his bad habit. Even shorter is Gary Coleman as a non-Mormon recruited for his genetic hoops skill.

The nominal star is Andrew Wilson (the little-known brother of Owen and Luke) as Dennis Buckstead, the team captain and dim-witted family man who rises to the challenge of inspiring the bishop and his Mud Bay teammates to the inevitable and blessedly nonsappy conclusion.

Ted Fry: tedfry@earthlink.net

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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