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Case Number 08971

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The Pistol: The Birth Of A Legend

VCI Home Video // 1990 // 104 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 31st, 2006

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All Rise...

Back in his junior high church basketball league days, Judge David Johnson used to be called Dave "The Daisy Cutter" Johnson—but not for the reasons you think.

The Charge

The greatest gift a father can give his son is a dream.

Opening Statement

"Pistol Pete" Maravich was a legendary basketball player, and one of the finest college hoops phenoms ever. His 44 points average over his three seasons at LSU is stunning, considering there were no three pointers back then. This guy was known for his showmanship and neck-snapping on-court wizardry. The Pistol tells the story of his beginnings, and how he forged his destiny on the court of his high school gym, when he was only a 13-year-old little puke, showing up all the varsity players. It's a wonder he made it out of school alive.

Facts of the Case

Adam Guier plays Pete Maravich, introduced to us as a young kid learning the ins and outs from his dad, Press (Nick Benedict). Press is a World War II veteran and a coach for Clemson. He brings a rigorous worldview of focus, discipline, and potential-maximizing to the court and to his child-rearing. Pete soaks up the lessons and, through long practice sessions set to music, hones his ball playing skills.

Amazingly, this scrawny kid lands a spot on the varsity team, but is forced to watch all the games from the bench, where it appears he's been permanently stranded by the coach. Game in and game out, Pete rides the pine, even though he knows he can run with any of the guys on the court.

After some pressure from the elder Maravich, the coach eventually lets Pete play, and, believe it or not, the young kid immediately starts dominating. Defenders can't contain him, constantly befuddled by his around-the-back, no-look passes, expert dribbling prowess, and deadly mid-range jumper. The school and the town get caught up in Pistol madness, and the wins pile up for the team.

But two great challenges lies ahead for the wunderkind: 1) a face-off with the big-city, all-black team that has been showing dominance and a new, fluid way to play and 2) the coach's loser son who feels slighted by Pete's fame.

The Evidence

The Pistol is a big, honking plate of cheese. Having watched it, I feel like a Dorito. Its cheesiness has permeated my being, soaked itself into my every pore. I yield, Pistol Pete! I am no match for your overwhelming assault of feel-goodness!!!

Here's the Cornball Checklist for The Pistol:

• Multiple conversations with dad at night, underneath the basketball hoop.
• Three, yes three, montages set to horrible, horrible songs.
• A steadily building crescendo of cheers for the protagonist ("Pistol! Pistol! Pistol!").
• Saccharine voiceover narration.
• Classmates and friends who rally around the little guy, defying the big bully.
• Racist white coach coming around to embrace the multi-colored prism of competitive boys basketball.

This family-friendly film wants to be mentioned in the same breath of classics like Hoosiers and Rudy, but the simple fact is it's not as good. The writing is weak, the characters are wooden, the scenarios are clichéd and predictable, and the sports scenes—arguably one of the most critical components of a film like this—utterly lack energy. I feel like a cold-hearted jackass complaining, but no amount of spin could cover up the fact that The Pistol just isn't that good a film.

However, before I continue, I should add my obligatory disclaimer: even though I find the movie lacking on an objective level, for families looking for completely harmless, sports-themed entertainment crammed with positive (if heavy-handed) moral messages, The Pistol will deliver. As for the quality of that delivery, well, no guarantees.

For me, everything seemed so engineered, as if the writers were determined to craft a Frankenstein's monster of sports inspiration. Unfortunately, most of the moments that were grafted on fail to work, or, worse, prove to be counterproductive. Adam Guier as the titular character gave it a good shot, and seemed to truly possess some basketball skills, but a lack of charisma and the blatant choreographing of his sports scenes hamper his characterization. Look, I know it must be hellish to try and recreate the legendary moves of Pistol Pete Maravich on the screen, but the very element that made him so amazing was his improvisation on the court. In the film, all the action looked rehearsed and restrained; I just couldn't buy that this scrawny 13-year-old outmaneuvered players twice his size on the hardwood. It all became transparent and, in some cases, notably the one-on-one match between Pete and Buddy Pendleton (the jerk of the film), laughable.

There are more shots I can take at this film, but I don't feel like it. It's not bad in a malignant way. The filmmakers obviously have the best of intentions, and the life lessons are good, and Pistol Pete's story is indeed inspirational, but the finished product stumbles in its execution and trades wit and originality for syrupy been-there-done-that storytelling.

An okay 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital mix comprise one of the better technical efforts I've seen out of VCI, though the picture quality does suffer from its share of grain and dull color saturation. A producers' commentary and a decent documentary on Pistol Pete (highlighted by actual game footage of the wiz in action) headline the extras. Outtakes and text-based trivia and stats cap the bonuses.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I will give credit for at least one bit of resistance to cliche conformity: a twist on the oft-used "last-second slow-motion jump shot to win it all."

Closing Statement

This Pistol shoots blanks.

The Verdict

The accused has been demoted to "team manager." Go fetch the honorable court some grape Powerade.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 80
Extras: 80
Acting: 70
Story: 70
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: VCI Home Video
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated G
• All Ages
• Drama
• Sports

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary with Producers
• "Mavarich Memories"
• Deleted Scenes and Bloopers
• Pistol Pete's Records
• Pistol Pete Trivia
• Cast Bios
• Trailers


• IMDb

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