So Bad it’s Netflix #11: Fast Break

So what if the only Scorsese movie Netflix Streaming offers is Last Temptation of Christ? Who cares if their Spielberg collection consists of Amistad, Hook and 1941? What Netflix does have in abundance is garbage. It’s time to surrender and celebrate it. This isn’t so bad it’s good… this is so bad it’s Netflix. 

 Fast Break (1979)

Why does every movie eventually have to find an audience? Why can’t some audiences stay lost? Ever hear Tom Green bragging about how Freddy Got Fingered eventually broke even from home video sales? That, my friends, is a real tragedy; fuck this ebola shit. Most movies don’t deserve an audience and sometimes it’s not right that some even remain available. I bet if I took a pic of my naked ass and posted it online that pic would officially “have an audience” by the year 2323. Well, let’s say 2329 to be safe. I don’t remember ever seeing Fast Break in a video store; it’s just one of those movies that was never allowed to gain an audience and isn’t that a wonderful thing? I’m Andy Rooney.

Let’s go to the So Bad it’s Bullet Points!

  • The White (Jewish) Shadow


Gabe Kaplan rose to fame as a stand up comic and then became a huge TV star on Welcome Back Kotter. On top of that, he always killed it on Battle of the Network Stars and even got to be in the very first Love Boat episode. On Kotter, Kaplan had a certain shticky, Catskill-comic charm that worked in a dumb sit-com, but his modest comedy chops had no future on the big screen. In Fast Break, Kaplan is believable as a basketball coach but not as an actor/comedian. Just like Mandy Patinkin in Homeland, Kaplan’s face is so obscured by hair it’s sometimes hard to read what he’s thinking or feeling.


The first half hour of Fast Break feels like a documentary style Welcome Back Kotter episode, minus the laugh-track and the laughs. It’s just Gabe hanging out in the inner city, playing b-ball and mentoring at-risk youth. Kaplan plays David Green, a NYC deli owner who has always dreamed of coaching college basketball. Green gets an offer to coach from Cadwallader University, a tiny, podunk Nevada institution. Cadwallader’s Dean lets Green bring along some ringers and so Green heads to Nevada with four young African American players who all have a good reason to get out of New York.

Neither sports comedy nor sports drama, Fast Break is just sports ugly. It’s a college basketball movie that doesn’t know how college sports, or life works. Break breaks from reality whenever it needs to and raises many issues of race and gender only to either side-step them completely or take a basketball sized-shit on them.


  • On the Road to Nevada

On the wacky road trip west, Green proves he’s the coolest coach ever by letting his team spark up some fatties in the station wagon.

POT_1  POT_2  POT_3

Things get way too Cheech and Chongy when a cop car appears from behind with sirens blasting. In a panic, they try to eat the entire one pound bag of weed.


Luckily for them, the cops were pursuing somebody else. As to be expected, the filmmakers ignore the immense comic potential of showing the team’s very high adventures over the next three days.


  •  What Can Reb Brown Do 4 u?


You might recognize this huge hunk from the Italian adventure, Yor, Hunter From the Future (1983). Reb Brown is also famous for playing Captain America in two late 70’s TV movies. Unfortunately, in that iteration of the Steve Rogers saga, Cap’s mask is just a shitty motorcycle helmet. In Fast Break, Brown plays the only white guy in the starting five and he’s only allowed to play as the team’s “muscle.” This is an example of Fast Break ignoring how basketball is actually played. Hockey has enforcers, not basketball. You can’t be a violent asshole in basketball; you’ll foul out. Brown spends the movie slightly bumping into the opposing players on the court (the actors botching the choreography every time), getting the foul call and throwing up his hands in disbelief.


  • The Old N***** Trick

You’d think that Coach Green would be a bastion of East Coast liberalism and tolerance; he’s a Jew coaching a mostly black team with a player who just might be gay (more on that later). However, although Green might be color blind in his private life, he does prefer to keep the racism on the court where it belongs. In the final big game, to the viewers shock, Green actually let’s a white bench-warmer play. Hooray! However, there are strings attached. Green tells the kid sure, you can play, but only if you tell one of the black opposing players that his mother’s a dirty nigger. Green doesn’t seem the least bit surprised when his boy gets punched very hard in the face. Green becomes embarrassed and ashamed; might his beloved “your mother’s a dirty nigger” strategy not be the ace-in-the-hole it used to be? Green calls up another white bench-warmer and the they share this classic exchange:


(excited to play)
Who do I call a nigger, coach?
Nobody. Don’t call anybody a nigger.

From Bench-warmer #2, I would have preferred the more tasteful; “Whom shall I call a nigger, my liege?”


  • A Swish-y Situation


By far, the most interesting thing about Fast Break is the storyline featuring Swish, a black female basketball phenom (played by Mavis Washington, a high school girls basketball coach who never acted again after Break) who gets to join the Cadwallader team but only if she poses as a man, since women aren’t allowed. Swish is so desperate to get a college education she agrees to this virtual prison sentence.


Coach Asshole doesn’t bother to inform the rest of the team of Swish’s female-ness, for reasons unknown. It would have been so much easier to have the entire team in on the deception so they could execute it, you know, as a team, instead of letting poor Swish live a lie by herself in a strange new place. We end up hating Coach Douche that much more for putting this poor girl through such trauma. Anyhoo, we’ve seen this all before, right? Let the Just One of the Guys hi-jinx ensue and we’re golden. But no no no, Fast Break is so confused about what to do with all of this gender-bending that it goes in the strangest direction possible with it. Everyone at Cadwallader ends up believing Swish is a gay man. Wait. What? Why? Why do they think “he” is gay? There is not one moment in Break where Swish is seen acting “feminine” in any way. We aren’t privy to what people are seeing in Swish because the filmmakers don’t bother to show us. Now Swish has to endure non-stop harassment and hatred for being a gay man. Thanks for the learning opportunity, Coach Fuckface.


So here’s where it gets really weird. Swish’s teammate, D.C., a former NYC drug dealer, falls in love with Swish. The problem is D.C. is so disgusted with himself for loving a gay man that he mostly takes his anger out on Swish. He’s afraid to be seen with her or even touch her by accident, for fear he’ll be labelled a “fag.” Sounds like a perfect recipe for great basketball. D.C. yells at Swish, “You look and act like a woman!” and we, of course, have no idea what he’s talking about. Believing himself to be gay, D.C. is caught trying to leave town, telling Coach Green, “you don’t want two fags on your team.” Coach Green breathes a sigh of relief and tells D.C. something along the lines of “Congratulations my boy! You’re no fay-gelah! What you’re feeling isn’t the least bit wrong. She’s a broad, my dear boy- a broad!”


So, I guess my point is: check out Fast Break on NETFLIX! Just do me a favor and don’t admit to anyone that you saw it; you don’t want to be a future member of Fast Break‘s inevitable “audience.”

Next Week: A young Jason Bateman is a Moving Target