Word Wars

No matter how hard it tries, Word Wars will forever be compared with Spellbound, just because it happened to come out after the latter, which was a gripping, exciting, Academy Award nominated documentary. Spellbound was about the National Spelling Bee. Once those kids grow up, they just may end up in Word Wars, which follows four highly ranked Scrabble players on the way to the National Championships. Word Wars is not as exciting, because the filmmakers decided to forgo extended footage of the actual competitions. Instead, they focused on four competitors, who just happened to be four, unemployed adult men, which may be another reason that Word Wars is not as exciting.

But, as easy as it is to mock these guys, one has to appreciate their love of the game. To them, it is more than just competition. Part of the reason they have no jobs is they need time to practice Scrabble. The only way they can earn money is by winning tournaments. Yet, after the tournaments, the various competitors gather in hotel lobbies and rooms to...play more Scrabble. There isn't an intense sense of rivalry; many are actually very friendly with each other and hang out during their free time. They are so close that some of them seem like bickering married couples.

Directors Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo follow last year's champion Joe Edley, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill, and &G.I. Joel Sherman (the G.I. stands for gastrointestinal) as they make their way across the country playing in regional tournaments. Edley uses new age and Buddhist concepts to free his mind and help his karma. Sherman looks like the grown up sickly nerd, whose stomach often takes control forcing him to swig bottles of antacid. Graham walks around in old, hole-filled shirts, always ready to challenge anybody and everybody to a quick round. And Hill, an African-American, is one of the few non-white males in the entire tournament.

Chaikin and Petrillo do some clever anagramming on their title cues, but aside from that, Word Wars is pretty light on substance. It is a fun film to watch, but at times feels a little more like a marketing ploy to sell more Scrabble sets than anything else. But the four players do riff off each other, and their love and enthusiasm for this game is clearly evident, and imprints itself on the viewer. Who could think that the issues of including derogatory terms would be such an issue for the makers of Scrabble? In the end, one wishes that the filmmakers would have showed more tournaments (they're timed) so that people watching could get a sense of the pressure that these four people feel, but as it is, Word Wars is still an amusing look at something most would think has no place being a spectator sport.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 18 minutes, Not Rated but contains some language and adult situations, probably an R, possibly a PG-13.

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