Winning is the only way out.
For some reason I can't really pin down why I've come to dislike sports movies. I don't know why that should be the case, because I love sports (except the NBA, of course, which has become one of the most dreadful entertainment products available, but that's a rant for another time). When you grow up in snow-oriented places like Chicago and Maine, if it isn't for diversions such as football and hockey you'd easily go stir crazy during the dark months of blizzards, blistering cold, Nor'Easters, and ice storms. (It wasn't all bad—sometimes we'd have sleet!)
I guess my main problem with sports movies is that 99% of them fall into the Bad News Bears mold where a bunch of misfits get together, bond, and then defeat a much better team as the underdog. People seem to like these types of movies and they've hit just about every sport you can imagine from football (The Replacements) to hockey (The Mighty Ducks) to basketball (Hoosiers) to boxing (Rocky) and professional wrestling (No Holds Barred). [Editor's Note: Kevin forgot the arm wrestling one, Over The Top, lamentably not available on DVD.] I'll have to admit I haven't seen an underdog sports movie about cricket, but something tells me one exists somewhere. (Note: please don't mail me copies of one. I really don't think the world needs to know about it.)
For some reason football movies tend to be the worst of the lot, for football movies tend to have the absolute worst set of clichés to them. Examples: the protagonist is always the quarterback, or the protagonist's team always wins on the final play of the game. There are a couple of stand out exceptions, such as the amazing Brian's Song (preferably the 1971 version—if this movie doesn't make you cry there might be something wrong with your soul) or the ultra-violent The Last Boy Scout (a guilty pleasure if ever there was one). My point is that good football movies are few and far between. Not even recent efforts like The Replacements or Any Given Sunday have managed to bring me any sort of joy. I'm at the point that if a football movie doesn't feature a mule that can kick field goals alongside the comedy stylings of Don Knotts and Tim Conway, then it just isn't worth my time.
Imagine my horror, then, when Fox brought All the Right Moves to DVD.
Facts of the Case
Stefan Djordjevic (Tom Cruise—Jerry Maguire, Mission Impossible) is a high school football player cursed with an unpronounceable and unspellable name. He consistently does poorly on those aptitude tests they give the students because his allotted time is entirely spent filling in the bubbles (with a No. 2 pencil, naturally) for the "Name" section. This leads Stef to apply himself to getting a football scholarship to an engineering school, because we all know engineering schools have great football teams. It turns out that Stef lives in a dying steel town somewhere in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania, and since he doesn't want to waste his life working in the steel mill for tuppence a day and living in a cardboard box in the middle of the road, he'd rather get an engineering degree and then come back and actually make things from the steel milled in this town. Make sense?
The only real obstacle for Stef is his bloated ego and is hardnosed jackass of a coach played by Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist, TV's Coach). It turns out Coach Nickerson is also trying to get out of this one horse town by securing a coaching job at a college somewhere, and the only way to do that is to beat their rival, currently unbeaten team. The sports clichés go out the window, however, as Coach Nickerson's team snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. During the post-game letdown, Stef gets kicked off the team and then gets involved with local hooligans who trash Coach Nickerson's house for obviously boneheaded playcalling at the end of the game. Stef, of course, gets spotted by the Coach and suddenly finds himself as the object of Nickerson's wrath, who blackballs Stef from the numerous college scouts who want to talk to him.
There's also this subplot involving Stef's relationship with the love of his life, Lisa Litski (Lea Thompson—Back to the Future, Red Dawn) and another one involving his best friend Brian (Chris Penn—Reservoir Dogs) getting his girlfriend pregnant and ruining his plans for college. These subplots are pretty much mere distractions from the real story but contribute to the overall themes of despair and poverty.
Thankfully, at the very least, All the Right Moves pretty much threw the football sports clichés right out the window. The protagonist is the team's star cornerback (as opposed to the star quarterback), and the team loses the big game instead of winning it. Aside from that, however, the main character is still an egomaniacal, swaggering gasbag, a role that Cruise has since perfected in other "classic" movies like Top Gun, Top Car, Top Bottle, and Top Spy, and the coach is still tough as nails and an obstacle in the protagonist's side, kind of like every Captain in every cop movie. The only other nice thing I can muster for this review is the stark reality of America's depressed Middle Atlantic area. Lots of small towns thrived on and revolved around local steel mills, until of course the mining veins dried up and the towns basically shut down. Listen to Billy Joel's horribly depressing song "Allentown" a few times and you'll get what I mean. (As a side note, wasn't Billy Joel's music so much cooler when he was angry at everything? Didn't his music just totally start to suck when he started sleeping with Christie Brinkley? If he'd been in a group she'd easily have been the new Yoko, albeit a much better looking one.)
The transfer for All the Right Moves might be anamorphic, but the age of the film far outweighs the viability of a decent transfer. There's plenty of blurred images and graininess, but at least there's no edge enhancement and the color looks okay, if a bit faded. The audio is a surprisingly flat 5.1 remix that isn't worth the time to denigrate further, and you can just forget about the extras unless you're satisfied with Theatrical Trailers and Interactive Menus. This is about as close to "barebones" as you can get without actually being "barebones."
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The real crux of the problem with All the Right Moves is that it has a completely stupid name. When you name a film All the Right Moves you would think that the characters in the film actually make smart, intelligent decisions, but this really couldn't be further from the truth. Every character in this movie seems to have the intellectual capacity of a fruit fly. Since this is a high school coming-of-age film I decided to give it letter grades based on how it dealt with real life issues:
On poverty in America: A
On sex education: F
On substance abuse: F
On pregnancy: F
On mixology: F
On interpersonal communications: F
On football coaching: F
On home decoration and landscaping: F
On vandalism and pranks: F
On pro wrestling instruction: F
On gun safety: F
Okay, I made that last one up. But as you can see not too many characters are making very wise decisions in this film. I rest my case.
All the Right Moves is a perfectly good diversion if you want to see Tom Cruise act all smug in his formative years or to see Lea Thompson naked. Other than that I'd advise against watching this movie, especially if you have more pressing matters like repairing door hinges or reshingling your roof.
This one is getting lined up behind the mule and the word "Oyinch" is getting uttered to put it right through the uprights. It deserves nothing less.
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