MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : James Van Der Beek (Jonathan "Mox" Moxon), Jon Voight (Coach Bud Kilmer), Paul Walker (Lance Harbor), Ron Lester (Billy Bob), Scott Caan (Tweeder), Richard Lineback (Joe Harbor), Ali Larter (Darcy), Amy Smart (Julie Harbor), Eliel Swinton (Wendell), Thomas F. Duffy (Sam Moxon)
"Varsity Blues" is a concentrated, high-energy fusion of every hot-blooded American 18-year-old male fantasy ever imagined, all set to thumping rock-alternative music. When screenwriter W. Peter Iliff sat down to pen the script, I imagine him having a brainstorming session where he determined all the most important fantasies that would have to be included for the movie to be complete.
It's not hard to guess what his notepad might have looked like. It would certainly have included something along the following lines:
As directed by Brian Robbins ("Good Burger") in slick, music-video fashion, and produced by MTV Productions, "Varsity Blues" includes all that and a lot more. In addition to the fulfillment of endless high school male fantasies, it also recycles every football and sports movie cliche known to man, right down to Mox's father (Thomas F. Duffy) who is trying to live out his failed dreams of being a hero through his son's football valor. Mox's dad might have been somewhat touching is he weren't so pathetic.
The movie takes place in the fictitious Texas town of West Canaan, where football is literally worshipped. The whole town shuts down for Friday night games, and there is a Rocky Balboa-like statue of Coach Kilmer standing in front of the stadium. Kilmer is the town's true hero, a man who has coached the high school team for 30 years and won 22 district titles and two state championships. That those championships were won at the physical and mental expense of his battered and abused players is the movie's one conceit toward building something like drama.
In fact, "Varsity Blues" is more of a raucous comedy, and a dumb one at that. But, that being said, it's sometimes dumb in a big, lunking, enjoyable kind of way. Watching Billy Bob (Ron Lester), the 350-pound lineman who may or may not have serious head injuries, drunkenly vomit in a washing machine next to a couple having sex on the dryer (which is, of course, on) is so ostentatious that it's almost funny. And then there's that whipped cream bikini ...
Interestingly enough, for a movie that spends most of its time regurgitating cliches and worn-out storylines, "Varsity Blues" throws in a few truly bizarre twists that suggest Iliff was not only reinventing his high school years while writing the script, but also smoking illegal substances. Chief among these is Mox's little brother, Kyle (Joe Pichler), a fifth-grader obsessed with various world religions. When we first see him, he is walking around with a cross on his back like Jesus, and by the end of the film, he has recruited some of his schoolyard playmates into a white-robed cult of some kind ("Have you started a cult, honey? That's so cute," his mother tells him in the movie's most jaw-droppingly weird moment).
Where that character came from, I don't know. How he works into the narrative flow, I don't know. Why James Van Der Beek held out for so long while his "Dawson's Creek" comrades were making ill-fated forays into the multiplexes with bad slasher movies like "Disturbing Behavior" and "Halloween H20," only to make this half-baked high school fantasy his big screen debut, I have no idea.
Of course, the most unfortunate thing about "Varsity Blues" is that its essential thematic basics--the disillusionment of heroism and the inordinately lop-sided praise we as a society heap on athletes--could be the foundation of a meaningful movie that is still waiting to be made. Keep waiting, because this is not it.
Copyright © 1999 James Kendrick