Posted on 6/19/13 10:22 PM
It Had Something to Say and Never Said It
This movie is so old that it's "introducing" Uma Thurman. The fact that I say this about a movie from my own lifetime--I was, in fact, in fifth grade at the time--is a little disheartening to me. In fact, technically, this movie meets one of my definitions of a classic. Oh, it basically doesn't meet any of the others, despite the cast, but it is old enough. I find that a little alarming as well, to be honest. To me, a classic film must be at least twenty-five years old. This means, among other things, that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade becomes a classic next year, which I really wish I hadn't looked up. However, it takes more than age to make a classic. It also requires things like a compelling story, fine acting, a quality score, and artistic filming. You can be missing one of those, though age is necessary. However, you still need at least a few of the others, and this doesn't have them.
Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) is the star quarterback of I-Don't-Remember High. (I watched this like three days ago.) Every college with a football program is trying to recruit him. He's a basically decent guy with a best friend, Leo (Robert Downey, Jr.), and a girlfriend, Georgia (Thurman). However, a lot of those offers are awfully tempting. Technically, they aren't supposed to give recruits payment. They're supposed to be amateurs. On the other hand, what the NCAA (later appearing in a cameo by Robert Downey, Sr.!) doesn't know won't hurt anyone, right? So Johnny tours several schools, though at least part of that is that he doesn't know when he'll next get the chance to see more of the country than his hometown. Georgia wants him to just go to State and get a real education as well as playing football . . . and, of course, it won't hurt that he'll be at the same school as she is. However, it gets awfully hard to resist some of those offered incentives.
While I don't think Johnny and Georgia should get married, and I hope she at least plans to wait until after graduation, I do approve of her determination that he should get an education. It's awfully easy for an athlete to coast through college as an athlete and not have to worry about academics, and Johnny gets a quick view of what that can mean when he sees someone (Tim Rossovich) who thought he'd have Johnny's life but got injured and couldn't even pay for college. It's too easy to coast and then end up, well, as a gas station attendant. And the guy still believes that Ol' Tex has taken care of him by getting him that job. Johnny needs something to fall back on, and while he doesn't necessarily realize it just then, a school that's not offering him much may just be the best thing for him. Even leaving aside the shady nature of the offers he's getting, he needs a school that will make him actually work for his grades and give him a diploma worth anything.
It's funny, really, to watch the interaction between Anthony Michael Hall and Robert Downey, Jr., in this, though not in the way that the movie intends. While watching Leo, I found myself wondering exactly which drugs he was on at the time and whether the character was supposed to have been as drugged as the actor. This is no more funny than the supposedly wacky things Leo says. However, it would only be a few years before Robert Downey, Jr., would be a sex symbol, and Anthony Michael Hall has never been one. I mean, when you see him, what do you see him as--Farmer Ted or Brian? (Or, I guess, Gary Wallace, but I've never seen Weird Science.) Apparently, he turned down Cameron in Ferris Bueller to play this role instead, presumably for the chance to break out of the geeky role. It didn't work. Even when he's bulked up, there's just something goofy-looking about him. He doesn't work in this part, and it's hard to forget certain more recent Downey roles.
Most of what bothers me is what we don't see. Okay, Johnny manages to resist the tempting offers all around him. Including Lawanda Wade (Lucianne Buchanan). He meets Jim McMahon, a football player so famous that even I recognized him. And he resists. Well done, Johnny. He recognizes that the offers he's getting all have drawbacks and risks. And, yes, some of those risks are more personal than others--as attractive as Lawanda might be, there's something unsettling about her determination to sleep with one member of the team for each graduating class. It's never explored, because she isn't a character. She's a hurdle for Johnny to overcome. Leo's problems with his family are there for a joke, as are Georgia's with hers. Coach Wayne Hisler (Paul Gleason) is sleazy, and that's pretty much it. None of these characters get more than one dimension, and without that, the plot is just a series of events that are intended to be funny and aren't. There are a lot of '80s teen movies that I would elevate to classic status, but not this one.