Wordplay - More Down Than Across

Alliance Atlantis
Duration: 94min
Category: Documentary
Available: On DVD
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Iíve come to expect that exciting drama can come from unlikely sources and I have documentaries to thank for it. Weather itís spelling bees or dirty jokes, it seems that popular docs are tapping into the thrill of the most mundane of pastimes.

Thatís why I was looking forward to Wordplay, the new documentary about crossword puzzles that features celebs from John Stewart to Bill Clinton. I was sure there was gold to be found in those empty boxes.

Well, I guess there is a limit to the amount of fun that a crossword puzzle can give you. Wordplay doesnít enthral like some of the recent documentary flicks that have been burning up the box office.

Wordplay taps into the genreís newly popular formula. Throw together a group of odd but lovable characters who have a passion for something marginal and get the audience hooked on their passion. This works, for the most part, but unlike wheelchair rugby or even the surprising intensity of a spelling bee, crosswords just donít have the same accessible attraction. If they do, the film makers didnít quite catch it.

Wordplay is fun for a little while. The film probably would have worked well under an hour. But interest in the subject doesnít hold up. Like most of these films, Wordplay is less about the subject, crosswords, and more about the people involved. The film throws out a few off hand theories about the appeal of crosswords, some passing comments about language and a whole lot of speculation about the central importance to the universe of the New York Times, but other than that the film is really just a character study on the nationís best puzzlers.

Most of them are interesting enough but none of them achieve the same kind of ďstarĒ quality that some other recent doc stars have done. All of this means that Wordplay ends up charming but a bit lengthy.

Maybe if I loved crossword puzzles more I would have loved the film more, but is that really the point? Shouldnít a film like this convert me? Make me want to run out and do the Times puzzle? Wordplay didnít excite me to think about words or puzzles. Something tells me that ESPN wonít be broadcasting crossword puzzle tournaments in the near future.

Review By: Collin Smith

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