Paramount // 1999 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 5th, 2009
"Let's play the next 24 minutes for the next 24 minutes!"
Finally! Varsity Blues, the greatest football movie ever made* makes it to Blu-ray.
*Varsity Blues is not the greatest football movie ever made.
In the small Texas town of West Canaan, football is more than a sport. It's a religion and the antichrist is Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight, Transformers), who runs the hugely successful, multi-championship-winning high school team. He may or not be evil incarnate, but no one cares because the guy brings home trophies and every parent in town hopes their son will one day play for him.
But just as the current season is humming along nicely, the team's star quarterback Lance (Paul Walker, Fast and Furious) goes down with an injury, leaving passing duties to the second-stringer, Jon Moxon (James Van Der Beek, Dawson's Creek) who, of course, immediately makes an impact by winning games and drawing the attention of the class bimbo (Ali Larter, Heroes) and the sex-ed teacher who also happens to be a stripper. Eventually, he'll lead his team to the state championship and they'll either a) lose in heartbreaking fashion or b) pull out the crazy play they had been practicing (to no avail) in an earlier scene and win the game at the last second by a narrow margin.
I love Varsity Blues...and I have no idea why. Objectively speaking, it is a corny, formulaic, over-baked sports flick packed with a mix of one-dimensional stereotypes, straight up cartoon characters, and plot points that anyone who's ever seen a sports movie will see coming from light years away. And yet I can not look away. In fact, if I were to stumble upon it while channel-surfing, I will undoubtedly stop and watch all the way through to the end.
Why?! What is this pathological attraction I have to such a goofy cheesefest? Join me, won't you, as I travel on this journey of self-discovery and -- perhaps, after all these years -- unlock the reasons behind this tortured psychology of my love for Varsity Blues.
The Shameless Cliches
It astounds me there can be so many tired Hollywood conventions stuffed into an hour and a half. And not just from sports movies, but from school comedies, teen dramas, and even afterschool specials. You've got the Lovable Fat Guy, the Hard-Partying Dimbulb, the Slutty Cheerleader, the Plain-In-Comparison-Girlfriend-Who's-Loyal-and-Nice, the Corruptible Good Guy, the Parents-That-Just-Don't-Understand, and the Oppressive Authority Figure. And we haven't even gotten to the much-flogged super-secret sports plays, last-second on-field heroics, overwrought locker room speeches, and slow-motion game-winning scores. Basically, Varsity Blues is a Frankenstein's monster of movies that were already made from other parts of movies.
The Stripper Teacher
While the whipped-cream bikini and the entire town's ambivalence towards their sociopathic head football coach are hard to swallow, as far as ridiculous moments go, nothing tops the drunken outing at the strip club with the school's Sex-Ed teacher who, 1) doesn't seem to mind rubbing her breasts in her students' faces, 2) is willing to hang around and guzzle beers with minors, whose faces she just rubbed her breasts in, and 3) is willing to show her face at the school the next morning.
Here it is, the primary reason I can't quit Varsity Blues. Obviously Jon Voight is a god among men, but the character of Bud Kilmer is one of the all-time great villains in cinema history. This dude is pure evil and, as the film moves forward, the depth of his malevolence is continually exposed. He starts off yelling a lot and being mean to the players. Then he makes his star lineman play with a concussion, after which we find out he's a racist who won't let the black running back score a touchdown. From there he threatens to sabotage Moxon's transcripts so he won't get into Brown, and finally we learn he endangers the boys' health by giving them illegal drugs. There is no gray area or redeeming qualities in Kilmer; The Blob is a more nuanced villain than this guy.
Now all of this amazingness finally lands on a format that can treat it the way it was meant to be treated. The Blu-ray is solid, its 1.85:1 widescreen looking fine for a catalog release. The colors and detailing are all tight, providing a nice upgrade to the picture quality; game sequences look especially good and you won't see a better visual interpretation of a whipped cream bikini. The audio -- Dolby 5.1 TrueHD -- is similarly well-performing, active and hard-hitting during the tackles and Voight's shouting. Extras are resuscitated from the standard-def release: filmmakers commentary, a making-of featurette, a clunky "analysis" with a former Texas high school QB, a segment on the cast's football training, and a genuinely touching featurette on the actor who played Billy Bob the fat kid and how he befriends Jon Voight and a ton of weight.
Fine, the movie's stupid, okay?
But rejoice in its stupidity nonetheless with a Blu-ray that scores on the A/V end, but fumbles with a lack of new extras.
Not Guilty. There I said it. Acceptance is the first step.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R