Varsity Blues

On what planet does a director get off making a film aimed at teens that’s rated R? It’s not like sneaking in to see it is a problem, believe me, it isn’t, but isn’t there some principle that this violates? Some moral code? It’s almost like putting up cigarette advertisements that are obviously meant for kids. It seems nearly law-suit worthy.

But that said (and director Brian Robbins shall think long and hard about it), Varsity Blues is a surprisingly good film. It stars James Van Der Beek, the star of the hit TV show Dawson’s Creek as John Moxon, a shy, almost noble 18-year old (is there such a thing?) second string quarterback at West Caanan High School in Texas. But it’s no ordinary high school, nor is West Caanan an ordinary town (don’t you worry, it isn’t possessed by aliens). As our protagonist tells us in the opening voiceover “In West Caanan, football is a way of life.” And indeed, that’s not much of an exaggeration. The high-school coach, Kilmer (Jon Voight) is the most powerful and feared man around, mainly because he has brought “22 district championships” to the town. And now, with the presence of wonder-boy quarterback Lance Parker, he is sure to bring home the gold for the 23rd time. But then there is an unexpected turn of events (what, you thought there wouldn’t be one?). When Parker breaks his leg, our friend Moxon (or Mox, as he is lovingly nicknamed) becomes an instant star. But he is troubled by the coach’s stronghold of the town, his friends and ultimately his future.

Varsity Blues is of course filled with sex, whipped-cream bikinis and all that good stuff. Is it gratuitous? Without a doubt. But here, that’s more than forgivable. Varsity Blues does actually have some important social commentary, and unlike many films (Pleasantville immediately comes to mind) it doesn’t ram it down our throats. It’s refreshingly subtle and discreet, almost masked by the outrageous “sex and football” facade.

The performances are mostly mediocre, with James Van Der Beek sporting his fake Southern accent, and the rest of the young actors and actresses being annoyingly overboard. Jon Voight as the coach is the standout here, and while we can’t really get much insight into his character, he does give an entertaining performance.

Obviously to appeal to teens a movie such as this has to be funny, and on occasion it is. The jokes are mostly sophomoric (not surprising, considering Brian Robbins’ last major film was Goodburger), but hey — whatever works. I’ve never had too much against vulgar humor, as long as it’s funny, and here much of it is.

And, of course, like most films about sports, or having anything to do with sports the film ends with a very very big game. But for once the outcome is in doubt, and for once it seems to matter. I’m recommending Varsity Blues on the basis that if we look at it beyond face-value there is something to discover.

-- Eugene Novikov

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