Friday May 31, 1996

     Tell me if I'm in foul trouble, but isn't there something oxymoronic about a movie that posits Whoopi Goldberg as coach of the New York Knicks and then goes on to trumpet the values of courage, integrity and duty to the fans? Just asking.
     What's abundantly clear is that creativity fouls out by the first quarter of "Eddie," a comedy whose title character is drafted to be coach of the Knicks by the team's new owner--a Charles Finley type named Wild Bill Burgess (Frank Langella)--in a shameless stunt to hike ticket sales.
     Burgess, a self-styled cowboy, is the sort who introduces himself to the fans by riding a horse onto the court, installs the anathema of dancer-cheerleaders and shoots off fireworks that ignite Walt Frazier's retired jersey as it hangs from the hallowed rafters of Madison Square Garden. He's the kind of owner sports fans revile by instinct.
     But that, of course, doesn't mean that making Eddie his coach isn't the best thing that's happened to the Knicks in years, yadda yadda yadda.
     So while Burgess is the bad guy (he even tries to move the team to St. Louis), the alleged appeal of "Eddie" is its pandering populist position that a fan plucked from the stands could take a professional basketball team from last place to playoff contention. This is an organic contradiction that might have worked had, say, Preston Sturges directed it. But with Steve Rash (who once upon a time made "The Buddy Holly Story"), we have what's basically a going-through-the-motions picture.
     *
     Our heroine is the hardest of hard-core Knicks fans and the kind of obnoxious whiner who's regularly banished to the nosebleed seats by soon-to-be-ex-coach John Bailey (Dennis Farina). Bailey's also cast as a villain, but it's hard not to sympathize with him: He's given ultimatums by Burgess rather than the tools he needs to win and when he tries to protect his team's integrity (and his own), he's gone.
     So, just to recap, you have a guy you're supposed to dislike but who's got the courage of his convictions, a professional fan who's basically a jerk and a team owner of the sort that's destroying the integrity of professional sports but without whose vanity we wouldn't have a movie. Which, come to think of it, isn't such a bad idea.
     Eddie is very motivational. I, for one, was motivated to leave the theater. She's essentially the same character Goldberg has played in everything else she's ever been in, including TV commercials. But giving the fans what they know (which isn't necessarily what they want) is the point of this movie.
     There are dozens of cameos by people who have clearly no sense of shame, including New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who's currently being pressured by his own Burgess, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Also, there are appearances by sports journalists like Marv Albert and Chris Berman, who shouldn't have come within spitting distance of this movie. And--surprise--a couple of very appealing performances: the Bulls' John Salley as the one player professional enough to make Eddie's team a winner and the Clippers' Malik Sealy, who is quite funny as Stacy Patton, the player/corporation who refers to himself in third person.
     Still, "Eddie" has a story line that was overworked when the Lakers were still in Minnesota and the kind of preciousness that would make a child squirm. Coincidentally, it took six grown men to write this thing. If they'd cut one they'd have had a starting five. But that might actually have been funny.


Eddie, 1996. PG-13, for some language and brief sexuality. A Hollywood Picture presented in association with Polygram Filmed Entertainment/Island Pictures, distributed by Buena Vista. Producers David Permut, Mark Burg. Director Steve Rash. Screenwriters Jon Connolly, David Loucka, Eric Champnella, Keith Mitchell, Steve Zacharias, Jeff Buhai. Cinematographer Victor Kemper. Production designer Dan Davis. Editor Richard Halsey. Costumes Molly Maginnis. Music Stanley Clarke. Art director Robert K. Shaw Jr. Set Decorator Roberta J. Holinko. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. Whoopi Goldberg as Eddie. Frank Langella as Wild Bill Burgess. Dennis Farina as Coach Bailey. Richard Jenkins as Coach Zimmer. John Salley as Nate Wilson. Rick Fox as Terry Hastings. Malik Sealy as Stacy Patton.