America’s national pastime was in a tight spot in the late nineties. Coming off a strike during the 1994-95 season, attendance and viewership were low and Major League Baseball was concerned. Then, like a couple of caped avengers swooping in to save the day, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa single-handedly helped bring excitement back to the game. The two raced towards a new single-season home run record and turned every at-bat into must-see TV. If it hadn’t been for McGwire and Sosa, the baseball renaissance may have never happened. I didn’t care for the Giants, but when Barry Bonds was up to bat I’d put the game on to see if he’d blast one into McCovey Cove.
Screwball isn’t about these guys per se, instead choosing to focus on the man who provided some of baseball’s most notable players with steroids in an effort to not only perform at a higher level but increase the longevity of their playing careers. Diving into the deep end of one nutritionist’s sudden and surprising new clientele opens up a can of worms in the form of back-ally dealings, general stupidity, and the MLB’s putrid handling of the investigation.
Director: Billy Corben
Release Date: March 29, 2019
The main focus of the entire steroids scandal is Tony Bosch. A Miami native with a doctor for a father, Bosch always had a personal connection to baseball. Director Billy Corben lets Bosch tell his entire life’s story, and to Bosch’s credit, he is truly open. He admits he didn’t have the athletic ability to compete beyond high school and that he was more interested in girls and partying; a theme that gets repeated throughout his life.
The mood throughout the entire film is light. Bosch’s backdrop is a sunny beach. He’s often chuckling and playing off his involvement in nonchalant fashion. Corben allows Bosch to be transparent while refusing audience sympathy. People can divvy out the blame however they see fit, whether it’s fully on the players for taking the drugs or the overly willing doctor who supplied them, but Bosch doesn’t deserve anyone’s pity. Corben also goes overboard with the soundtrack, choosing to replicate Miami’s known sounds with an affable tone and a mini-me version of Pitbull.
Interspersed with in-person interviews and television recordings is a re-enactment of the described events. This isn’t abnormal for a documentary to do, but Corben puts his own spin on it. He has children dressed as adults, lip-synching the interviewee’s words like a twisted Drunk History episode. It’s not only awkward and off-putting, but it makes the real-life scenario more comical. This story is serious and goes beyond Bosch. The most notable player involved in everything is Alex Rodriguez, who would eventually miss an entire season as punishment. He not only took the drugs, but he and his people tried covering it up. Even Rob Manfred and the MLB bungled their investigation due to sloppiness.
In addition to Bosch, Corben spends an inordinate amount of time on a man named Porter Fischer who, in his mind, was Bosch’s business partner. In Bosch’s eyes, Fischer was simply a customer who found success with Bosch’s treatments and gave the doctor four thousand dollars as an investment illicit business. It’s never fully explored, but Bosch’s business was already booming, so why bother taking four grand from a guy who doesn’t know what he’s getting into? In the end, it’s Bosch’s inability and refusal to pay back Fischer that sets the whistleblower into motion.
Fischer spends nearly his entire time on screen recounting conversations. There’s a lot of “he said this, so I said that, then he said that, then I said this” that brings his retelling into the same vein as a gossiping high schooler and felt like it was an on-camera reality show confession. It detracts from the story itself and adds further credence that Fischer is an oblivious GTL bro who thought blowing the roof on Bosch would make him a hero. It did not.
Corben’s factual revelations in the film are eye-opening but require a tunnel vision lens to block out the excess debris he throws along the way. For casual fans not familiar with Bosch or the steroids investigation, Corben’s light-hearted take doesn’t reflect the true seriousness and its effect on the sport. Bosch served jail time eventually, but it was for giving steroids to high schoolers with overly proactive parents. Perhaps Corben’s goal was to make fun of the issue since the entire handling of the situation was laughable, but it comes across as more of a parody than a legitimate revelatory story.