‘Screwball’ Review: A-Rod’s Steroids Scandal Makes for One of the Best Baseball Documentaries Ever
If you’re a fan of the writings of Carl Hiassen or Elmore Leonard, the interconnected stories of Pulp Fiction, and Keystone Cops-style humor, boy, do I have a documentary for you. Screwball, which comes out this weekend in twelve select cities and on VOD on April 5th, tells the absolutely unbelievable yet insanely true story of the Biogenesis scandal that rocked Major League Baseball and sports fans across the country in 2013. Billy Corben, whose previous documentaries include Cocaine Cowboys, The U, Broke, and Dawg Fight, brings us this sordid South Florida tale of fake doctors, narcissistic baseball players, Florida state investigators, mob-connected enforcers, tanned gym rats, and enough incompetent, lovesick MLB investigators to field an entire team.
The main character in this madness is Anthony Bosch, better known as “Dr. T” to his patients. Bosch is the son of a licensed doctor who immigrated from Cuba and practiced in South Florida. Anthony struggled to get into a good medical college here in the U.S. so he decided to get his license from a strip mall medical college in Belize. It was the first of many questionable decisions and red flags the film would present about the good Dr. T., who parlays his “degree” and his con man sensibilities into a thriving business injecting micro-doses of steroids into his patients to help with “anti-aging” and weight loss. Since he couldn’t prescribe steroids to his patients because the U.S. didn’t recognize his medical license from Belize, Bosch came up with a plan to use his father’s prescription pad. As the business grew in size, he worked out a deal to use the prescription pads from other retired doctors in Florida (including a recently deceased one). Eventually, as the demand from his clients rapidly increased, he turned to the mob to get him steroids off the black market. All of this occurs relatively early in the movie, and that isn’t even the crazy part of this story. Bosch’s practice would eventually include policemen, lawyers, businessman, high school athletes, and ultimately, Major League Baseball players like Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez.
Corben’s master stroke of genius with this documentary lies in the unique technique he uses to tell all the smaller interconnecting stories that comprise this larger sordid tale. It’s simple, yet brilliant. Corben employs young actors to portray the real-life adult characters in staged reenactments of the scenes being relayed in these stories. The kids wear facial hair, wigs, fake muscles, skull caps, and even Ed Hardy shirts complete with sleeve tattoos to complete their transformation; it’s quite a thing to behold. Corben also chooses to shoot some of the scenes in the actual South Florida locations described in the film. One of these scenes has the young actors portraying Alex Rodriguez and Anthony Bosch looking for a vial of A-Rod’s blood on the floor of a nightclub, and it’s one of the funniest and most surreal scenes I’ve ever seen in a documentary. That’s why Screwball is so effective as a piece of entertainment: because even though you should be alarmed by how stupid these so-called adults were, the young actors make you laugh instead.
Later in the film, Bosch opens Biogenesis, meets amateur bodybuilder Porter Fischer(who never met a tan he didn’t like), and begins making a name for himself among major league players, which is when the film really starts to venture into cuckooland and we’re treated to the more stories of ‘Manny being Manny.’ The star outfielder patted down Bosch while looking for a wire during their very first meeting, and once had Bosch read him a bedtime story to help him sleep. More seriously, the absentminded slugger also got himself suspended for over 50 games when he accidentally micro-dosed on the wrong day. Corben shoots holes into everyone throughout the film except for maybe ESPN’s Pedro Gomes and Miami New Times reporter Tim Elfrink. However, he saves his best indictments of a criminal and comically inept system for Alex Rodriguez and the MLB investigators.
The film depicts A-Road as a narcissist of epic proportions who employs Bosch exclusively. He lies to everyone around him about his actions as he blatantly keeps using Bosch’s performance enhancing drugs, and as investigators close in on him, he tries to muddy the waters by leaking the names of other ballplayers in Bosch’s books. As A-Rod starts to realize that he can’t escape punishment anymore, the heights he goes to to cover up his tracks and to avoid blame will astound you. Just when you’re ready to write off A-Rod as the buffoon of the piece, the MLB investigators ask you to “hold my beer” as they stumble all over south Florida paying off informants, throwing cash around haphazardly, and even having affairs with the Biogenesis nurses they are questioning.
Screwball is one of the most enjoyable and unique films I’ve ever seen. It belongs in the discussion for the greatest baseball documentary ever thanks to its sheer craziness, and how vividly Corben brings it to life. Even if you’re not a sports fan, this sweaty tale of hubris, greed and comical incompetence will keep you enthralled throughout with a smirk firmly planted on your face.