MVD Rewind Collection: Artie Lange's Beer League (2006) - Reviewed

Troubled comedian Artie Lange’s lowbrow, politically incorrect yet amusing gonzo Beer League, newly re-released on blu-ray by MVD, represents a snapshot in time of a slowly fading bygone era of booze-heavy sex, drugs and rock & roll comedies about the middle-aged loser lifestyle.  Seen at the height of the subgenre’s renaissance run in the mid-2000s it doesn’t make a huge impression but looking back at the film’s somewhat difficult production due its increasingly problematic lead comic star now makes it something of a fascinating chapter in Artie Lange’s checkered career.  Not unlike, say, Neighbors with John Belushi, the comedian’s personal demons nearly derailed the production itself, making one wonder if in the end it was worth all the trouble.

To be fair, Beer League inhabits a kind of Happy Madison arena of productions, made on the fly mostly with a sketch-comedy premise of improvised gags and off-color jokes thrown together vaguely resembling a feature length “movie”.  Aside from overqualified cast member Ralph Macchio as a soon-to-be newlywed if his friend Artie’s drug-and-sex drenched bachelor party doesn’t undo the wedding engagement, Beer League is mostly about Artie Lange’s personal mantra of boozing, drugging it up and enjoying life.  Not unlike the character being played, more-or-less an extension of himself, Beer League was beset by the lead actor’s shenanigans. 

Lange was still busy touring while pre-production began on the film, the stress of which coupled with personal training to meet the demands of the role drove the comedian to intensify his drinking and intake of twenty painkillers a day.  Worse still, the comic also picked up a heroin addiction which resulted in his absence from pre-production meetings and casting auditions.  The film’s co-writer and director-for-hire, Frank Sebastiano, issued an ultimatum: shape up or the film is shut down.  Lange heeded the warning and soon finished shooting sober and on time. 

Sadly, however, the end results didn’t pay off.  The film opened in limited release before being condemned by the critics and relegated to straight-to-video obscurity, making Beer League yet another failure in a string of personal failings for the comedian.  In the years since the film has attained something of a cult following though with all the trouble Artie Lange has had over the years, having recently resurfaced in the news due to finishing up rehab, the film seen now is something of a time capsule. 

Comedies of this sort, deliberately vulgar and stupid as well as endorsing the loser lifestyle, are rarely made anymore even though in the mid-2000s they were coming out like no tomorrow with Lange’s entry into the subgenre something of a late bloomer.  It will maybe garner a couple chuckles or two from you if nothing else.  Lowbrow, basic and somewhat dated, Beer League is idiotic yet mildly intoxicating raunchy fun.  You could do worse with two hours.

--Andrew Kotwicki