Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Fred Travalena, Gregory Calpakis, Flavia Carrozzi, George Thomas, Sherwood Kendall
Directed by Jack Bravman
Let me quote the press release from Code Red DVD:
“Night of the Dribbler, a comedy slasher shot in 1995 but never released anywhere in the world, will make its world debut via Code Red DVD this summer! Some psycho wearing a basketball mask is killing off the high school basketball team, and it’s up to the famous TV funnyman Fred Travalena to find the killer! In the vein of Peter Sellers films, Fred plays 3 roles in the movie! Canadian TV’s Cold Squad’s Gregory Calpakis also stars in this demented comedy horror film that has been lost for many years. Directed and produced by the fine folks who brought you Snuff, The Carpenter, and the cult classic Zombie Nightmare! We hope you all will enjoy this lost classic!”
I have a theory as to why Night of the Dribbler went unreleased for nearly 15 years: somebody actually watched it.
I also watched Night of the Dribbler. Did so with a friend used to me subjecting him to film’s of dubious quality. I’m lucky he’s still willing to be my friend after Night of the Dribbler. At first it’s just harmlessly lame, then we looked at the clock and realized only 15-minutes had passed. I could sense his Hulk-like rage was building with each passing minute, with each leaden gag falling flatter than the next, intensifying during the long stretches where there didn’t even appear to be any jokes but you just knew the filmmakers thought funny stuff was happening. Can’t say I blame him. This is a guy that watched “Mystery Science Theater 3000” religiously and has helped put on bad film festivals and here he was telling me afterwards that Night of the Dribbler was quite possibly the single worst movie I had ever subjected him to. You cannot fathom was such a declaration entails.
Just listening to the first few minutes of the audio commentary track pretty much tells the tale of woe as to where Night of the Dribbler went so horribly foul. According to late funnyman Fred Travalena (he died just a few weeks before the DVD release), when he was offered the role the movie was intended to be a full-fledged R-rated horror parody. Travalena had moral objections to appearing in a slasher film and the producers, who for some reason were still gung ho to get him for the film despite even Travalena admitting his career was not exactly on fire at the time, agreed to completely rework the entire movie into an imbecilic comedy with the slasher elements almost completely excised. Furthermore, according to Travalena, he was given little to work with other than a basic idea what to say or do and hope he could be funny improving much of his scenes. Travalena describes the director’s style as saying “action” and “cut”.
Travalena plays three roles: the coach of the Watergate Plumbers high school basketball team, the game announcer, and the police detective investigating the Dribbler’s antics. He never gets a single laugh with any of them. Not one laugh. It’s hard not to feel a little bad for Travalena because it is apparent watching him that he was desperately trying to make comedy out of nothing and failing at every turn. The team is getting trounced. Coach calls them over for a huddle and they all look unhappy. “I haven’t seen faces like that since 51 seconds ago on the court.” That line is supposed to be funny? A running joke has various people coming up to the coach and asking “Coach, can I have a word with you?” and he’ll reply with some random word like “poodle” or “semiconductor”. Har-dee-har-har.
With the police detective role I got the impression it was never written to be funny but they put Travalena in the role, dressed him up like Inspector Gadget mated with Wimpy from the old Popeye cartoons, and expected him to work miracles. A long-winded bit of humorless dialogue just going over the facts of the case ends with him declaring they have to race to the crime scene. He and his partner stand up from the table, get in a foot race starting line position, and run off camera. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the more inspired bits of visual comedy. Think about that for second.
The movie is very much operating under the mistaken belief that as long as someone is saying their lines in a wacky accent it will be funny regardless of whether or not what they are saying has any traces of humor in it, such as the young Andrew Dice Clay look-a-like doing the worst 50’s Elvis shtick imaginable. Or as in Travalena’s case, the misguided notion that wearing a stupid hat or tacky clothing or a fake mustache or punk rock hairstyle while reciting joke-free dialogue in a silly voice makes anything funny.
That the Dribbler’s mask looks like a demented basketball smiley face Madball is funnier than anything he does in his very few, very brief, and very far between appearances. Obvious death gags have been totally neutered to accommodate Travalena’s preference. When you’re resorting to Road Runner cartoon antics and old “Batman” sound effects words appearing on the screen… The very basis of the film ends up being one big missed opportunity in a movie loaded with missed opportunities. I mean a member of the rival basketball team has a metal claw for a hand and speaks in a Hannah-Barbera German mad scientist cartoon voice and the film proceeds to do nothing with him.
If only the movie had missed some opportunities to treat us to endless scenes of actors not terribly skilled at the game of basketball playing basketball for long periods of time often without any gags to go along with the gameplay. Could have also lived without the useless subplot involving the dueling high school principles betting on the big game.
Night of the Dribbler has all the makings of one of those USA Network’s “Up All Night” ultra low budget late night comedies, the kind so dreadfully unfunny that even hosts Rhonda Shear and Gilbert Gottfried would be compelled to apologize between commercial breaks. Oh, how this film made me opine for Bikini Car War Company. At least that movie had boobs in it, not just people acting like boobs.
I laughed out loud one time during the whole godforsaken 90-minute endurance test that is Night of the Dribbler, a joke even the audio commentary track acknowledges as the best joke of the movie. Even that audio commentary track became unbearable after a short period of time. Travalena, producer Scott Spiegel, Edward Hueck (the Movie Geek from the defunct Comedy Central game show “Beat the Geeks”) all seem fully aware of the film’s shortcomings but still sounded far more amused by what they were watching than anyone else will probably be. About the fourth time Travalena burst into uproarious laughter at the sight of himself wearing a goofy hat was when I decided I’d heard enough.
The disc also includes a new interview with the actor that played the Elvis wannabe looking back on his shame. A trailer for Night of the Dribbler appears to be a slapped together music video. There are also quite a few trailers for other Code Red DVD releases, all of which look to be more entertaining than the actual feature on the disc. When is your Devil’s Express DVD coming out? Now that I want to see.
I appreciate Code Red’s commitment to bringing rare films to DVD but Night of the Dribbler can go back in the vault in Montreal from which they found it. Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans look like a Peter Sellers comedy by comparison. I’m not giving into hyperbole either. This is one of the worst movies of its kind I have ever seen and I have seen Ghost Fever.
1/2 out of 5
2 out of 5
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