Not quite a three-pointer, but definitely more than an airball, "Celtic Pride" is an uneven but largely likable basketball-themed comedy that should lay up decent B.O. numbers and perform even better in the homevid arena. But pic will have to score quickly in its initial theatrical run: It's opening just days before the start of NBA playoffs, which likely will siphon off much of its target audience.

Not quite a three-pointer, but definitely more than an airball, “Celtic Pride” is an uneven but largely likable basketball-themed comedy that should lay up decent B.O. numbers and perform even better in the homevid arena. But pic will have to score quickly in its initial theatrical run: It’s opening just days before the start of NBA playoffs, which likely will siphon off much of its target audience.

Daniel Stern and Dan Aykroyd, a bit ill-at-ease with their working-class Boston accents, are still effectively cast as rabid hoop fans who yearn to see their beloved Celtics ace the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, the Celtics lose game six to a Utah Jazz team led by Lewis Scott (Damon Wayans), an egotistical hot-dogger who makes millions in product endorsements and appears ready to give a repeat performance in game seven.

Judd Apatow’s screenplay treads a thin line between humor and pathos as it depicts gym teacher Mike O’Hara (Stern) and plumber Jimmy Flaherty (Aykroyd) as none-too-bright Everyguys who are so fanatical that Mike’s wife, Carol (Gail O’Grady), has filed for divorce, the Celtics having alienated his affections.

Mike is temporarily living with Jimmy when the high-concept plot kicks in. Seeing the hard-partying Lewis at a trendy night spot, the boys at first do nothing more than try to get the star too drunk to play at the top of his game. The next morning, however, they wake up to find Scott sleeping it off with them in Jimmy’s apartment. Trouble is, Scott’s hands and feet are bound with tape. Without fully realizing what they were doing while on a bender, Mike and Jimmy kidnapped the NBA star.

Wayans, Aykroyd and Stern develop an amusingly edgy give-and-take as Scott tries to psych out his captors and the Celtic fans argue over what, if anything, to do with their unwilling guest.

One of the pic’s funniest bits involves a pointed satire of superstar endorsements: Mike bets that if he can make a complete cycle ofTV channels with his remote control without finding a single commercial featuring Scott, he will set Scott free. Not surprisingly, Mike wins.

Except for a few wisecracks made in passing, hardly anything is made of the fact that Scott is a rich and successful black while his captors are working-class white guys. “Celtic Pride” might have been more interesting if the filmmakers weren’t so eager to make Mike and Jimmy free of racial prejudice. (However, introducing even mildly unenlightened attitudes would have made the comedy a lot darker, and maybe turned the wholeproject into something less commercially safe.)

Wayans plays Scott with sass and pizzazz, and is thoroughly convincing both on and off the basketball court. Better still, Wayans is unafraid to sound utterly contemptuous when Scott dismisses his captors as losers who denigrate high-paid athletes only because they’re jealous.

Stern and Aykroyd play well off each other in familiar characters, with Stern cast as a quick-tempered natural leader and Aykroyd as a malleable, basically sweet-natured softie.

Supporting players include “NYPD Blue’s” O’Grady as Mike’s long-suffering wife, Paul Guilfoyle as a neighborhood cop who’s willing to treat kidnapping as less serious than a misdemeanor, and Christopher McDonald as the excitable coach of the Utah Jazz.

Several real-life sports and broadcast personalities, including Larry Bird, Marv Albert and Bill Walton, appear as themselves in cameo bits. (The funniest of these walk-ons is saved for last, as Deion Sanders discovers that Mike and Jimmy also happen to be dedicated NFL fans.)

First-time helmer Tom DeCerchio’s work is smooth and assured. In addition to handling the rowdy crowd scenes during two NBA playoff games, DeCerchio also oversaw a sequence that, thanks to the magic of special effects, depicts the demolition of Boston Garden.

As anyone who follows sports knows, Boston Garden has not yet been demolished. That may explain why this obviously expensive sequence (which, according to the production notes, originally was capped off with a sight gag) has been saved for the very end of the closing credits. By the time it appears onscreen, most people will have already left the theater.

Other tech values are first-rate.

Celtic Pride

Production

A Buena Vista release of a Hollywood Pictures presentation in association with Caravan Pictures. Produced by Roger Birnbaum. Executive producers, Judd Apatow, Charles J.D. Schlissel, Jonathan Glickman. Directed by Tom DeCerchio. Screenplay, Judd Apatow, based on a story by Apatow, Colin Quinn.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Oliver Wood; editor, Hubert De La Bouillerie; music, Basil Poledouris; production design, Stephen Marsh; art direction, Dina Lipton; set design, Al Manzer; costume design, Mary Claire Hannan; sound (Dolby) , Curt Frisk; assistant director, Michael Waxman; casting, Ferne Cassel. Reviewed at Sony Memorial City 8, Houston, April 16, 1996. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 90 min.

With

Lewis Scott - Damon Wayans
Mike O'Hara - Daniel Stern
Jimmy Flaherty - Dan Aykroyd
Carol - Gail O'Grady
Tommy - Adam Hendershott
Kevin O'Grady - Paul Guilfoyle
Deion Sanders - Deion Sanders
Bill Walton - Bill Walton
Coach Kimball - Christopher McDonald
Derrick Lake - Gus Williams
Tony Sheppard - Ted Rooney
Lurch - Vladimir Cuk
Larry Bird - Larry Bird

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