Starchy sports-related bio-documentaries get a well-deserved shot in the balls from the all-too-brief but consistently funny 7 Days in Hell, a fast-paced 50-minute spoof produced by HBO in an effort to give their Wimbledon 2015 viewers something good to watch in between all the actual tennis. And while 7 Days in Hell is more than good (it’s actually pretty hilarious), it’s most assuredly not for kids. (My apologies to all the 7-year-old sports documentary enthusiasts of the world.)
Written and directed by a pair of guys who have credits on Funny or Die, Saturday Night Live, and all sorts of comedy-related product, 7 Days in Hell charts the long-standing rivalry between tennis champions Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg) and Charles Poole (Kit Harington), what makes them such markedly different athletes, and how they came to do unholy battle in a torturous seven-day match.
And really, that’s more than enough of a premise on which to hang a Spinal Tap-style mockumentary, particularly when you have two very funny leads, a support staff that includes Will Forte, Fred Armisen, Lena Dunham, Karen Gillan, Mary Steenburgen, Howie Mandel, June Squibb(!), a stunningly funny Michael Sheen, and some drop-dead hilarious stuff from John McEnroe, of all people. Not only does director Jake Szymanski get some great bits from McEnroe, but also from Chris Evert, Serena Williams, and David Copperfield! They made athletes funny! And a magician too!
When 7 Days in Hell isn’t being stolen by its wonderfully odd array of supporting characters, it works as a great showcase for Samberg’s mock-bombast and tongue-in-cheek obnoxiousness. The guy is clearly having a ball playing the absurdly crude “bad boy of tennis,” and he finds an unexpectedly amusing foil in the normally very sedate and stoic Kit Harrington. Where Samberg is the crude, crass rock star of the tennis world, Harrington’s Charles Poole is more or less a mommy-controlled tennis prodigy who is actually quite sweet but is also staggeringly stupid.
As one might expect from a group of filmmakers who know more than a little about comedy shorts, 7 Days in Hell generates a few wonderfully bizarre divergences from the traditional mockumentary formula: Michael Sheen’s performance as a sleazy British talk show host is simply unreal, plus there’s a brilliant sequence about a courtroom artist that still makes me giggle two days later.
Overloaded with “shock value” gags that actually work and a decidedly “adults-only” tone, which often helps to keep a viewer wondering how far (or how low) a comedian will travel for a well-earned laugh, 7 Days in Hell is so damn funny it makes me hope they saved (at least) 40 minutes of material so I can get a feature-length version on DVD.
Why Jake Szymanski and Murray Miller aren’t out there saving the spoof movie from the likes of Epic Movie and Meet the Spartans is beyond my comprehension. Maybe once this thing hits the airwaves.
4.5 out of 5 bite-sized but deliciously funny burritos
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