Director Billy Corben’s 2006 film Cocaine Cowboys was one of the rarest of cinematic beasts: a hit documentary. That doesn’t happen often, but docs are also rarely as rowdy, insane, and relentlessly entertaining as that one. Given that Corben’s latest feature, Screwball, is about a steroid supplement scandal in Major League Baseball, one might assume that it’d be a little dryer and less entertaining.
However, the story stars a cast of intelligence- and reality-challenged sleazeballs from Miami. That means there’s just enough sun and cocaine involved in the bizarre tale to make it another eccentric, funny, and widely entertaining flick that proves Cocaine Cowboys wasn’t a fluke. This guy really knows how to capture the insanity of American drug wars, which are filled with large egos and personalities living lives that would never feel believable in a work of fiction.
This hilarious and sundrenched tale all starts with one man: Anthony Bosch. He calls himself a doctor, and in the small Latin country where he obtained a medical degree in a short a period of time that was mostly spent partying, he qualifies as one. However, Bosch is also a Grade-A bullshit artist who had no problem flashing that irrelevant diploma and claiming he was a doctor in America. His specialty? Supplements. The kind that make you look ripped without putting in all the pesky work at the gym it typically takes to get there.
Bosch openly admits that he began his shady practice day-drinking at a bar passing out advice. More clients kept asking for the same results, and as his practice grew, Bosch did what any enterprising businessman might do in the Elmore Leonard section of Miami: He started selling illegal drugs. Specifically, he sold steroid substitutes. When word of Bosch’s skills spread to the baseball world, he soon found himself working with stars like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. Bosch figured out techniques to beat the MLB piss test process and became a hero to cheaters on contract years. Money started flooding in, and since most of it went straight up Bosch’s nose and/or into his liver, it was a path to disaster.
The specifics of how and why the whole shady empire came crashing down are too good to reveal here and quite frankly so bizarre and complicated that it’d be tough to condense into anything other than a novel or an all-night rant that captivates the bar until the teller passes out or vomits. It involves grown men so obsessed with their tans that they hang out in tanning salons in the middle of Florida. Bad decisions pile on top of each other to a comical degree. No one has a particularly high IQ, but everyone thinks they’re absolutely correct. The whole multimillion-dollar empire eventually collapsed as the result of a $4,000 debt that easily could have been avoided if anyone involved in the sordid affair wasn’t an idiot blinded by ego and/or the pile of drugs they shoved into their face. It’s the sort of thing you watch jaw agape and giggling uncontrollably. Somehow, despite all the lunatics involved in the story, Alex Rodriguez still manages to emerge as the biggest ass. However, he’s still not the funniest weirdo on display and that contest is too close to call.
Corben clearly had fun directing Screwball, weaving together an idiot crime odyssey with glee and style. The film is meticulously researched, which somehow only makes it all funnier (the devil is in the details, etc.) and makes for some pretty amusing and grand observations about America along the way.
Corben makes one fairly big misstep, though. The film has re-enactments throughout to help with pacing and clarity. Corben decided to exclusively cast children in these scenes, leading to stylish school play that feels like something between Bugsy Malone, Moneyball, and Scarface. It’s an amusing gag at first and appropriate given that everyone involved in the story is a big dumb kid who never grew up. Sadly, that joke runs out of steam fast and soon becomes an annoying affectation in an otherwise giddily entertaining documentary.
Even so, I can’t complain too much about a doc with this much entertainment value. Anyone who loves to hear stories about all the insanity that goes on in Florida behind closed doors will eat this up, as will baseball fanatics seeking a new reason to hate Alex Rodriguez. Screwball is a cocaine-fueled crowd-pleaser.