The message of “The Minis” is that you can accomplish anything if you believe in yourself. I know this is the message because that platitude, or some variation of it, is spoken by the characters at least a dozen times. When I noticed how frequently they were saying it, I considered starting the movie over again so I could get an exact count, but sense and decency prevailed and I forged ahead.
“The Minis” is about four dwarfs who form a basketball team and recruit Dennis Rodman to be their fifth player. Yes: THAT old cliche. (“Dwarf” is the term the characters prefer. They never say “little people.” Get off my back.) We begin with home-video footage of a dwarf father talking to his dwarf son on a basketball court, pestering him with questions about whether he believes in himself. From the boy’s downcast appearance, we infer that he suffers from non-belief, thus establishing the movie’s central theme, to be repeated a hundred times (figures are approximate).
Jump ahead to the present. The boy, named Roger (Joe Gnoffo), is now grown-up — well, you know what I mean — and has a wife who is average-sized (a little chubby, maybe, but regular height) and a teenage son, Chris (Kalan Shires), whose stature is unremarkable. Roger and his best friend, fellow dwarf Chevy (Gabriel Pimentel), have always played basketball recreationally, because isn’t that funny? There’s no indication that they’re any good at it — the one attempt we see at sinking a basket ends with the ball lodged between the rim and the backboard — but Roger and Chevy love basketball anyway. One need not be competent at one’s occupation in order to enjoy it, as Carson Daly has demonstrated.
Chris is in the phase that many teenagers go through where he’s embarrassed by everything his dad does. For example, his dad is always going around being really short. The bullies mock Chris for this, like it’s HIS fault. Chris and Roger’s relationship is further fractured when Chris fails to get a basketball scholarship to “Northern Heights University,” possibly because it doesn’t exist (double-check on this), which means he can’t go to college at all because whatever Roger’s job is, it doesn’t pay well enough for his children to go to college, or even apply to real ones.
Roger is sad about Chris’ lack of respect for him. “He doesn’t even look up to me!” he says to Chevy, to which Chevy replies, “Dude, wouldn’t you have to get a ladder for that?” If I failed to mention that the film is a comedy, now you see why.
Chevy, by the way, who is bald and unusually tiny and looks like Mini-Me’s Mini-Me, is frustrated at how his shortness prevents him from getting laid as regularly as he would like, i.e., ever. He has the hots for Natalia (Caroline Macey), a dumb Texas blonde who only likes men who are wealthy, famous, or tall. Since he is none of these things, Chevy is sad, and he’s always talking about getting some kind of crazy surgery that would make him taller, which I think he might have gotten from a spam email.
The cure for all this sadness arrives in the form of a community basketball tournament in which the grand prize is $50,000. This would solve everything! They’d have to split it with three other teammates, but there would still be enough for Roger to send Chris to college for like half a semester, and for Chevy to be Natalia’s boyfriend for a week, maybe go to a restaurant where you have to wear a tie. They approach their friends Nick (Bradley Laise) and George (Dana Woods), who are also little people — Roger and Chevy don’t know any tall people — to form a team with them, and when they are skeptical about the odds of victory for a basketball team that only has four members and a combined height of 15 feet, Roger declares, “Together we can do anything!” That statement, while obviously false, is enough to win them over, and the dwarfs go from grumpy to happy.
But they need a fifth player. That is where Dennis Rodman comes in. We already knew Dennis Rodman was going to be involved because Chris’ high school principal mentioned he’d be a guest at an upcoming fundraiser. “Basketball great Dennis Rodman is going to be there!” are the actual exact words uttered by the principal. Was Rodman’s participation in the film contingent on his being referred to as “basketball great Dennis Rodman”? You cannot prove that it wasn’t.
Persuaded by his agent, Jack (Richard Portnow), that teaming up with dwarfs for a community basketball tournament is just the thing he needs to recapture America’s heart, Rodman joins Roger’s crew. Jack the agent calls them the Minis and instantly launches a full-court press (that is a basketball term) to get them on every talk show and magazine cover in the country. This movie is about 80 percent montage, and several of those montages involve photo shoots and merchandising opportunities. Zero of them involve the Minis playing basketball. We start to suspect that “We can do anything if we believe!” is not just their motto but their game strategy. Just get out on that court and BELIEVE!
The Minis quickly become minor celebrities despite not having done anything noteworthy, marking the first plausible thing that has happened in the movie. But then there is drama: Chris reveals to Roger that, college or no college, he doesn’t want to play basketball. He doesn’t like it. He’s been playing because Roger wanted him to. So what DOES Chris want to do with his life? Well, first he says, “I want to make people laugh,” but then he contradicts that by saying he wants to be a clown. So I don’t know.
All the merchandising and publicity takes its toll on the Minis, who start to feel like shameless attention whores instead of what they set out to be, which was attention whores who had a modicum of shame. The final straw is when Jack the agent suggests doing a commercial for a brand of adult diapers. Even Rodman thinks this is degrading, and he used to date Madonna. “Thanks to those guys, I understand that life is more than money and fame,” Rodman tells Jack, having been greatly inspired by the heroic efforts of these money- and fame-seeking dwarfs.
The dramatic scenes are the most fascinating to watch because not one person in the cast displays even a shred of acting ability, and they’re performing dialogue that does not resemble human speech. Dennis Rodman is literally the best actor in the film, surely the fulfillment of a biblical prophecy.
The team breaks up for like two seconds, then reunites in time for the tournament, which is being breathlessly covered by the news media because of the Minis’ “freak show” appeal. (I’m talking about Rodman.) They win the first game easily, thanks to Rodman hogging the ball and doing all the work himself. I assumed that was the whole idea: we’re short and not very good at basketball, so let’s get an NBA player to help us win. But Rodman’s teammates are offended and sad that they didn’t get to handle the ball much, so he includes them more in the next game, the bunch of babies.
(Oh, yeah: once Chevy realizes Texas blonde is a golddigger, he drops her and goes for the dwarf waitress at his favorite diner, as foreshadowed by every moment they had previously spent together.)
Back to the tournament. The Minis make it to the finals without fanfare, suspense, or competent cinematography. You’re going to think I’m making this part up, but I’m not: down by one point in the final seconds of the game, the four dwarfs stand on each other’s shoulders and dunk the ball. This is unnecessary, as they must have scored plenty of points the normal way throughout the tournament. But the formula for a movie like this requires whatever is unusual or unique about the heroes to become the very thing that saves the day in the end. The Minis are short; ergo, their shortness must be integral to their success, even if — and this is important — it doesn’t make any sense.
But that is not the end! The referee says that last basket doesn’t count because you’re not allowed to stand on your teammates’ shoulders (DUH), and so the Minis lose the game. Rodman, ever the wise, Yoda-like figure, tells them it doesn’t matter: the crowd loves them. They have earned a victory in their hearts. Why? Because they believed in themselves. They believed that a group of very short men could win a basketball tournament and send a kid to college. True, they wound up accomplishing neither of those things. But it’s still a victory because they … got famous and popular? Learned to be happy with who they are (short guys who lose basketball tournaments)? Spent time with Dennis Rodman? I don’t know.
The best thing I can say about “The Minis” as a film is that it’s very short. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA GET IT?? No, I’m serious, it’s only 75 minutes long. Even at that, you might think you won’t be able to endure the whole thing, but you can if you believe in yourself, and drink.