One could debate for or against whether baseball and other professional sports are indeed sports. When you start dealing with contracts that are in the tens of millions of dollars and revenue streams measured in billions of dollars, there’s more money flying around than many of the world’s country’s generate on an annual basis. So at what point does the game shift from sport to business? When they sign their first contract? In the months leading up to being drafted when battle plans for contract money are thrown around? I think it varies from person to person and is dependant on their attitude to begin with. In Daniel Kraus’ dark baseball film Ball of Wax, life on the diamond is clearly no longer a sport. It’s something sinister, like a virus refusing to let go of its host.
Mark Mench does a mean Billy Zane impersonation in the lead role as Bret Packard. Packard is a star with the South Carolina Devils. He’s seemingly done all he can do in the game and is looking for new angles to find satisfaction. Rather than try out new positions or set lofty on-field goals for himself, Packard takes to messing with the lives of those he’s surrounded by. He dabbles in hard drugs, sets up teammates to tempt them into cheating on their spouses, deflowers his young babysitter and shrugs her off and is a grade-A jerk to almost everyone he encounters. Angry and cruel, Packard is a possessed man who, like Christopher Nolan’s take on the Joker, acts with little reason other than to blanket himself in chaos.
Kraus does a fantastic job at creating the film’s dank mood. Although the small budget shows through at times in small ways, the director wisely focuses on the characters’ lives rather than a whole lot of on-field antics that would’ve been costly to stage properly. Although a movie that focuses on baseball players, it’s not about the game as much as it is a study in internal anarchy.
At times the film slips into lulls, filled with dialogue that’s not overly interesting. Much of this is done by the supporting characters who don’t have nearly as juicy a part as Packard. But even he sometimes starts to ramble on incoherently.
Ball of Wax is a mental horror disguised as a baseball drama. It’s a strong, albeit uneven at times, study of the human psyche when it’s constantly put under the pressures of performing highly on a daily basis both on the baseball field and as a famous public figure.