TRULY TUESDAY: "SCREWBALL" ON NETFLIX
"Screwball," which relates the story of the 2013 Biogenesis doping scandal that took down Alex Rodriguez and a number of other prominent baseball players, is one of those documentaries that constantly references the CRAZINESS of its own story. The film actually closes with its primary subject, Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, saying that oft-repeated line "You couldn't make this up!" just to drive the point home. (I guess you kind of need that shot for the trailer.)
Co-writer/director Billy Corben has filled his film with winking meta-commentary: everything from wacky music cues to clips from late-night comedy routines tips you off that the story you are hearing is outrageous and funny, featuring a cross-section of delightfully colorful Florida eccentrics. In a particularly bold move, Corben has cast an ensemble of children to play the scandal's central figures in all re-enactments, highlighting their often ridiculous, ill-advised, juvenile behavior. (All of this is somewhat unsurprising considering that Corben's most well-known credit, the 2006 documentary "Cocaine Cowboys," helped to popularize a similarly unconventional, reality TV-inspired approach.)
Ultimately, all of the bells and whistles and gimmicks were probably unnecessary. "Screwball" delivers on its initial promise: this is a truly hard-to-believe, only-in-Florida kind of tale, that goes way beyond Bosch's rampant, gleeful, careless criminality and into a large, complex and poorly-organized conspiracy. It's downright shocking that we only know this story, to this day, because a random guy got pissed off at Bosch over a $4,000 loan and decided to steal some of his files as payback. It strains credulity to discover that one of the private investigators Major League Baseball sent to Florida to look into the scandal had an affair with one of Bosch's own nurses. It seems like a joke when you find out that Bosch's only medical training happened at a school in Belize, which he selected because it's the only Central American country with English as its official language. But it's all true.
I can't really fault Corben for making the movie as wild and entertaining as he did, and it largely works, even some of the more over-the-top experiments. The child actors are uniformly talented and charismatic, and I'd be lying if I said that dressing up kids like they just had a spray tan, or like they have sleeve tats, wasn't amusing. There are also some genuinely clever touches here and there. Early in the film, Bosch compares himself to Ray Liotta from "Goodfellas," and then much later on, during a sequence where he's finally brought to justice, Corben plays a decidedly "Layla"-esque tune on the soundtrack, a callback to that film's famous "finding the corpses" montage.
One final note: the film REALLY has it in for one-time Yankee superstar A-Rod. Not that he doesn't deserve this kind of shabby treatment, but both Corben and Bosch seem fixated on presenting him as not only a cheater and a liar, but as an actual insane person. I'm not sure if this depiction is at all accurate or fair, and it's the one element of the film that feels deeply personal, almost vindictive, rather than simply bewildered and/or amused.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Running time: 104 minutes