Varsity Blues Reviews
"Make your own rules."
I had seen this movie over the course of the last five years, but never as a whole. I had always seen parts of it here and there on television, but before I had watched it as a whole, I had only known the movie in clips. It's a fairly standard high school film. It's overly melodramatic and each and every character or plot development is completely overplayed to the point where the cliches are flying at you from the screen. Varsity Blues feels so amateurish, it's ridiculous. It's poorly acted, written, and directed; settling for just the standard plot and characters that go along with lazy, unoriginal high school movies.
In Texas, football is everything. Kids are taught from a young age to give all they have to the game, even if they don't really want to. Mox is the backup quarterback to an all-state god. When the starter is injured and can't play anymore, Mox is forced to step into the starters shoes and take over the team. His coach, Bud Kilmer is a local god, but only the players really know what he is like. He doesn't actually care about his players, only his résumé.
I really dislike this movie, despite its easy to watch nature. The only reason it's so easy to watch, comes from the fact that there is a certain amount of enjoyment in watching a film that is so unsubtle and poorly executed. There isn't really a level that the movie actually succeeds on. It's all just incredibly horrible.
This isn't a movie of the caliber of Friday Night Lights. All it is, is another stereotypical, cliche, and insultingly stupid take on high school football and the players who play. Could the movie have been worse? Probably, but not much worse. I would suggest skipping this one. No matter how much you like high school movies or how much you like sports movies or any combination of the two; Varsity Blues is absolutely not worth your time.
My favorite sports film of all time is 61*, and that's not just because I'm a die-hard Yankees fan. I think my favorite moment in Billy Crystal's film is Roger Maris's response to one of the reporter's questions: the reporter asks him about the heroism of what he accomplished (I wish I could quote verbatim, but I don't have that good a memory), and Maris replies, "I don't think that's something you can earn on a ball field." And because of the attention that film pays to Maris's off-the-field struggles, we understand his point. Essentially, Varsity Blues flirts with the same point. The main character, Mox, considers his goals reaching beyond high school, and the film attempts to satirize/criticize the seriousness with which Texas high school communities take football. The problem is that the film ends up reinforcing everything it criticizes. Everything that you think would happen does, and what we're left with is a crippling contradiction: the goals these people hold so dearly are foolishly short-sighted, but we're still supposed to relish in the moments the characters achieve them.
Also, perhaps it's because my high school experience was much like most people's time in prison, but I always find films that portray high schoolers as adults, with the freedoms and problems adults have, to be extraordinarily false. After all, I don't know any town, in Texas or anywhere else, where seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds would be able to drink freely, steal a police car, go to a strip club (where their teacher moonlights [a teacher's pay isn't that bad]), and still face no consequences.
Overall, if you like over-drawn cliches and don't mind if a film is thematically contradictory, then enjoy Varsity Blues and the brief but delectable shot of Ali Larter in a whip cream bikini.
onathan "Mox" Moxon (James Van Der Beek) is an academically gifted backup quarterback for the West Canaan High School football team. Despite his relative popularity at school, easy friendships with other players, and smart and sassy girlfriend, Jules Harbor (Amy Smart), Mox is dissatisfied with his life. He wants to leave Texas to go to school at Brown University. He also dislikes his football-obsessed father (Thomas F. Duffy) and dreads playing football under legendary coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight). Kilmer is a verbally abusive control freak whose philosophy can be summed up as "win at all costs". He has a strong track record as coach, remarking in a speech that "in my thirty years of coaching football at West Caanan, I have brought two state titles, and 22 district championships!" Kilmer's philosophy finally takes its toll on Coyotes' quarterback, Lance Harbor (Paul Walker). It is revealed that Lance, who is Mox's best friend, had been manipulated into taking cortisone shots into an injured knee that finally gave out on a huge sack. Lance is rushed to the hospital, where doctors are appalled at the massive amount of scar tissue found under his knee.
Mox, who has accompanied Lance to the hospital, is shocked when Kilmer tells the doctor that he knew nothing at all about Lance's knee problems, when in fact Kilmer ordered the trainer to inject the shots. In need of a new quarterback, Kilmer reluctantly names Mox to replace Lance as captain and starting quarterback. The move brings unexpected dividends for Mox, one of them being Darcy Sears (Ali Larter), Lance's beautiful blonde cheerleader girlfriend, who is interested in marrying a football player in order to escape small-town life. Darcy even goes so far as to attempt to seduce Moxon, sporting a bikini made of whipped cream over her otherwise naked body, but he rebuffs her as gently as he can.
Becoming fed up with Kilmer and not feeling a strong need to win, Mox starts calling his own plays on the field without Kilmer's approval. He also finally tells his football obsessed father off at one point screaming at him "I don't want your life!" Mox's father had been a football player at West Caanan, and although Kilmer dismissed him as a "no talent pussy" he did say that he at least listened (unlike Mox). Kilmer, who becomes aware that Mox has won a full scholarship to Brown, warns Mox that if he doesn't fall in line, he will alter his transcripts in order to reverse the decision on his scholarship.
Another friend of Mox's, Wendell Brown, is injured on the field shortly thereafter. Kilmer manipulates Wendell into taking a shot of cortisone to deaden the pain from his injury, allowing him to continue even in the face of a permanent injury. Wendell, who is desperate to be recruited by a good college, grants his consent. At this moment, Mox tells Kilmer he'll quit the team if the needle enters Wendell's knee. Undaunted, Kilmer orders Charlie Tweeder (Scott Caan), a friend of both Mox and Wendell, to take the snaps. Tweeder refuses. Mox tells Kilmer that the only way they'll return to the field is without him. Realizing that he will be forced to forfeit the game, Kilmer loses control and attacks Mox. The other players break up the fight and then refuse to take to the field. Knowing his loss of control has cost him his credibility, Kilmer tries in vain to rally support and spark the team's spirit into trusting him, but not one player follows him out of the locker room. Kilmer continues down the locker room hall, and seeing no one following him, turns the other direction and into his office. The team goes on to win the game without his guidance.
In a voice-over epilogue, Mox states that he "never played football again. Lance went on to a successful coaching career (he did not work at Wal-Mart as feared by Darcy), Wendell received a scholarship to Grambling, Billy Bob cried because he's a bit of a crier, Tweeder drank beer because, well...Tweeder drinks beers. Kilmer retired, never to coach football again. However, his statue still stands only because it was too heavy to move. I took the scholarship and will graduate from Brown University."
In small-town Texas, high school football is a religion. The head coach is deified, as long as the team is winning and 17-year-old schoolboys carry the hopes of an entire community onto the gridiron every Friday night.
I didn't expect much out of Varsity Blues, but the movie delivers. Sure, all the cliches and high school fantasies are included, but they are intended. The movie's exaggeration of these characters and situations is oftentimes very funny, and it works. The actual plot keeps you interested in what happens to the characters and what happens to the team. The movie is refreshing as well, in the fact that the injured quarterback does not become the "bad guy", and the blonde "ambitious" cheerleader becomes a somewhat sympathetic figure.
As far as the football scenes are concerned, they are done very well, the only nitpicking thing that I could find as a football fan, is that on a long pass play the clock did not stop for a first down. In high school and college football the clock stops to move the chains, no big deal. And sure, we probably could figure out that the black running back would score a big touchdown, and that they would run the the five receiver set, and that the hook and ladder would come into play at the end, but it wasn't overly obvious like in some sports movies. Definitely should be an enjoyable movie for teens, adults, and football fans.
"Varsity Blues" is an all-around great movie. It has a great plot and even better acting, especially by Jon Voight as Coach Kilmer, James Van Der Beek as Moxon, and Ron Lester as Billy Bob. It's a great movie with a lot of drama, and it has one of the best endings of any movie I've seen lately. Billy Bob is the one that really makes this movie and after you see it, you'll know what I'm talking about. I recommend anybody to get "Varsity Blues." Note: That was my Amazon review from the year 2000. I'd have to see it again to know how it really stacks up to me.