Varsity Blues

1999, Movie, R, 104 mins


Given the commercial cynicism of Hollywood's slate of teen-themed films, this coming-of-age drama scores big points for trying to honestly tell a story rather than just pass the time. Borrowing heavily from football flicks like NORTH DALLAS FORTY and ALL THE RIGHT MOVES, it revolves around reluctant, rebellious hero Mox, (Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek), a Kurt Vonnegut-reading, second-string quarterback who dreams of leaving his provincial Texas life to go to Brown University. But when his preening best friend and starting quarterback Lance (Paul Walker) is injured at the tail end of an almost perfect season, Mox is forced to take his place. In a credibility-stretching bit of plot contrivance, Mox proves Lance's equal, even when refuses to abide by the rules laid down by legendary, domineering coach Kilmer (Jon Voight). Mox and Kilmer clash repeatedly over Kilmer's unrelenting, competitive pursuit of the championship without regard for the human casualties, and Mox questions the values of a town that's given a football coach such power just because he's delivered victorious seasons. Director Brian Robbins pays special attention to the rabid football culture of Texas towns, the physically demanding nature of the game and the psychological effects on the players. At the same time, he mixes in a few more raucous scenes -- like the one in which the boys celebrate a win at a strip club -- so the movie won't completely bore teenagers. The result is a bit of a mishmash that will strike you either as an awkward mix of drama, sports and teenage gross-out comedy or as a throwback to a more complex, '70s style of filmmaking in which a jumble of generic conventions could coexist side-by-side in the same film. While there are some undeniable false notes, there's also quite a bit on screen that works. leave a comment --Sandra Contreras

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