Volume 2, Issue 12, The 64th Edition
By Angel Zobel-Rodriguez
Over the years, I've gotten very sensitive whenever a film came out with a bowling character. Really, it shouldn't matter, right? Did Caddyshack actually tarnish golf's image? Did baseball players panic at the "Major League" movie and its sequels? Bowling just doesn't get many movies to call its own, so maybe that's why we clamor when we hear about anything that mentions bowling. So when the summer's release Mystery Men opened, I braced myself for the worst, and told myself I wouldn't let it matter. To my surprise, it did matter.
On a closer inspection, one of the characters, played by Janeane Garofalo, is called The Bowler. Her weapon is a clear bowling ball with the skull of her late father in it. Given Ebonite's success with both the "clear" lines and their new "fun" lines of bowling balls, I half expect to see this ball on pro shop shelves before the holidays. But I probably won't. Bowling hasn't done that great a job with product placement, and I'm not sure they'd even know where to begin (hint, movies studios are in and around Hollywood, California). Seriously, though, having Garofalo play The Bowler is a good thing. She brings a Generation X perspective to the role, and her dry wit is far removed from anything else bowling has been represented by. If it drags a few new people into a center to try their hand at the game, great.
Mystery Men is not a bowling movie, even if Garofalo's character dominates so many of the scenes. Given the current state of bowling, though, I couldn't help but sit there during the picture and think the entire storyline could be an allegory about the sport of bowling. So, if you'll humor a college film major, here goes.
The movie Mystery Men is the story of several underdog, superhero hopefuls that yearn for their rightful place in "superherodom." That's where bowling has been languishing for so long it's not funny. Rather than The Blue Raja, The Shoveler, and Mr. Furious sitting around that table complaining about how Captain Amazing is getting all the credit for saving the day and earning all the lucrative media endorsements, just picture ABC/WIBC, the pro tours, and the BPAA (collectively known as Bowling, Inc.) sitting around frustrated at the publicity, television time, and corporate sponsors that golf and wrestling receive.
The three superheroes realize they can't beat the bad guy, Casanova Frankenstein by themselves, and recruit several more equally inept superheroes with questionable talents. But the band of wannabes can't work together as a team, and seem to flounder. Bowling has long suffered as a sport where the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Unfortunately, bowling doesn't have The Sphinx to come along to bring about the best in each hero, or in this case, organization. Or maybe we do. The Sphinx motivated the superheroes by talking in metaphorical circles, and so can bowling. Someone told us in regard to tiered membership, "You cannot sell what you don't believe." Well, convert the disciples and they will reach the masses. Maybe bowling needs a Mr. Furious to tell The Sphinx it's time to stop talking in circles and get to work trying to save the sport.
At times the future looks so bleak for the heroes, they nearly give up. Certainly, bowling has reached that crossroads. But somehow they reach deep within themselves, and find the courage to persevere. Somehow, it's the wise words of the group's most practical member, The Shoveler, that brings the group back from despair, and energizes them for their apparently suicide mission. Maybe if the groups would listen to the the Mr. Shovelers of bowling, instead of marketing surveys and people from outside the industry, they too could bring bowling back into focus.
Eventually, the superheroes learn to work as a team, and come out from under the shadow of the famous town superhero. Boy, what I wouldn't do to get ABC, WIBC, BPAA, and all the rest of the acronyms of bowling to not only get on the same page, but actually try to harmonize. Maybe a private screening of Mystery Men is in order for the folks at Bowling, Inc.