The heavyweight boxer who took a title, but so wished to not be a fighter that every time he stepped into the ring,, he”wished that the city got hit by a massive blackout, or a f—–g tornado,” anything to save him from the fight — the golfer whose epic collapse went down in the annals of the sport’s history, an English football club, about to be relegated into oblivion — kicked out of the sport — these are the “Losers” of Netflix’s delightful, touching, laugh-out loud documentary series “Losers.”
Eight snack-size (about 30 minutes each) portraits are painted of Canada’s top curlers, Torquay’s woebegone soccer team, future trainer-to-the-stars and character actor Michael Bentt, golfer Jean van de Velde and others — people who plunge into the ignominious “darkness” of the ultimate humiliation — getting knocked out, having a “Tin Cup” sized collapse on the 18th hole of the British Open, having your team and town removed from the ranks of competitive British soccer.
Director Mickey Duzyj comes from an animation background, and uses interviews, archival footage, painted recreations and animation to tell the story of — for instance, Michael Bentt, a New York prize-fighter bullied and beaten into the ring by a brute of a father.
“The Miscast Champion” features Bentt, who stumbled into a title only to lose it in spectacular fashion, taking us into his worst moment and the light that came after it.
We don’t really need Ron Shelton, who directed “Bull Durham,””White Men Can’t Jump” and “Tin Cup” to tell us “Boxers are the bravest people in the world.” Bentt, a towering presence with a Hollywood mien, took abuse from his old man (a Jamaican immigrant) and quaked at the thought of every fight, shows us what that means — terrified of the beating he’d received, the shame of being knocked out, all of it. Shelton turned out to be Bentt’s salvation (helping him get cast as boxer Floyd Patterson in “Ali”).
Torquay, “The English Riviera,” might best be known as home to “Fawlty Towers,” the John Cleese sitcom about a haplessly run hotel in a resort that’s long in the tooth and not exactly a top tourist draw. But when their century old football club, half-burned stadium, sullen fans and all, faced “relegation” out of the sport for not being competitive, the town rallied, got terribly invested and clung to hope that this 1985 final match would not be their last ever.
If you don’t know about the Alsatian police dog who saved Torquay United, you’ve missed one of the funniest, sunniest and silliest tales in all of sport, related in “The Jaws of Victory.”
And if you’ve never considered the grace, peculiarity, good humor and good manners (a quintessential Canadian sport) of that “loser” of a sport, curling, “Stone Cold” will remedy that.
“Losers” makes winners out of its subjects, and tickles and occasionally enlightens the viewer as it does. These aren’t definitive versions of these assorted tales, going just deep enough to pique our interest and send us to the next fascinating episode. But that’s precisely what’s called for, here, in what might be the best sports doc series ESPN never did.
MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity
Credits: Directed by Mickey Duzyj. A Netflix release.
Running time: Eight short documentaries, about 30 minutes each