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Varsity Blues

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Varsity Blues

Starring: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight
Director: Brian Robbins
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: January 1999
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Sports

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If this year's films about life in high school are all going to be like "Jawbreaker" and "Varsity Blues," we're in for trouble. These are not bad or unwatchable movies, simply mediocrities. "Jawbreaker," about the kidnapping of a beautiful, sweet high-school girl who accidentally dies of asphyxiation, is meant to be a of the satiric, horror-comedy genre, but satirizes nothing, is unfunny and has not a slasher in sight. "Varsity Blues," which has a mishmash of floundering themes, hasn't an original bone in its rib-crushing body. What's more even "Waterboy" is more believable. Would you believe, for example, that a high-school teacher in a small Texas town would moonlight as a stripper in a nearby bar-- where, even if everyone under 21 were denied entrance, surely the parents of the kids she teaches could be her audience? And can you accept the fact that a razzle-dazzle, tough-as-nails guy whose statue overlooks the football field can coach a small-town high-school team to twenty-two annual division championships without being picked up by a big-name college? How about going with two separate scenes involving the a trainer's illegal injecting of a pain- killing substance into the knees of two seriously injured athletes while leaving the door ajar? (The massive rebellion that climaxes the film could not have taken place had coach Bud Kilmer simply turned the lock.)

The major flaw of "Varsity Blues" is its lack of singularity. Like dozens of similar movies about young jocks and their adoring women, Brian Robbins' saga, utilizing a script by John Gatins and W. Peter Iliff, takes us inside a high school West Canaan, Texas, where the town's entertainment is drinking, girls and football. Lance Harbor, the star quarterback (played by the Brad Pitt-like Paul Walker) enjoys the reverence of the citizenry, but his fame lasts only until he is sidelined for good with a bruising knee injury. His place is taken by second-stringer John Moxon (played by the charismatic James Van Der Beek of the TV show "Dawson's Creek"), a scholarly, squeaky-clean fellow who has whiled away his bench time reading Kurt Vonnegut. The town's reverence transfers to him instantly, including the allegiance of Lance's girl friend Darcy (Ali Larter) while he incurs the denunciation of his own sweetie-pie, Julie (Amy Smart). As Moxon smarts increasingly from the demands of dictatorial, hell-raising, victory-obsessed Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), he leads his team to a new realization of their exploitation while gaining further insight into his very soul.

"Varsity Blues" features some excellent slow-motion shots of the fellows in action on the field, scenes which would persuade any responsible adult to forbid his kid from competitively playing The Great American Sport. Athletes propel themselves against one another with the ferocity of a missile launched against Baghdad while the fans sit safely in the stands admiring the mini-skirted cheerleaders and boosting the transcendent home team. Jon Voight turns in his usual performance as town villain, the sort of role that propelled films like "Enemy of the State," "The Rainmaker" and "Anaconda" to box office success in recent years. It's simply difficult to accept he's mentoring a mere team of 17- and 18-year-olds, the way he curses and pummels them when they are behind and especially when their hero, Moxon, alters his instructions to set up plays of his own choosing. Kilmer brings to mind Nick Nolte's Colonel Tall of Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line," with his utter disregard of the well-being of the troops and his feeling that victory is everything. The boys look more like college seniors or even pro players than pimply adolescents, but perhaps that's the way the macho Lone Star State turns 'em out.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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