Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Brian Robbins
Stars: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Scott Caan, Paul Walker, Amy Smart,
Dawson’s Creek resident hunk James Van Der Beek goes from playing a sensitive school kid tackling some of life’s riddles on the small screen to a sensitive kid tackling some of life’s ironies on the big screen in his first major feature film role.
On the surface Varsity Blues is another movie about football and the pressures of competing. However, director Brian Robbins (Good Burger, etc) and writer W Peter Iliff (Patriot Games, Point Break, etc) give the film a more human aspect that will appeal to those not normally attracted towards sports oriented movies. Varsity Blues also deals with teenage angst, the problems of parental expectations, and the decisions they are often forced to make that will shape their lives forever.
Everything in the small Texan town of West Canaan revolves around the local high school team. Disillusioned fathers live vicariously through their son’s achievements on the football field, while the whole town basks in the glory of their triumphs. Even the town sheriff overlooks many of their high-spirited pranks.
However, for Jon Moxon (Van Der Beek), football has lost that element of pure fun that he and his team mates enjoyed as children. He doesn’t buy into the football as a metaphor for life angle espoused by ruthless coach Bud Kimble (Jon Voight). Kimble is a legend in the town for his on field success, although that has come at a high price. Mox believes that there is life beyond football, and that winning is not everything. Of course, Mox’s indifference towards football brings him into conflict with the arrogant Kimble. We don’t learn much about Kimble’s personal life, as we only see him in his office, cluttered with trophies, and on the field. Then we realise, somewhat sadly, that, for him, football and coaching is his life.
While reluctantly warming the bench awaiting his chance to play, he reads Kurt Vonnegut. Kimble’s star players are forced to use pain killing injections to prolong their time of the field. After Lance breaks a leg after a fierce tackle, Mox is promoted to quarterback, and becomes the new star of the team.
At first, he has trouble coping with the instant fame and adulation, and loses direction for a while. His new found fame also threatens his relationship with Julie (Amy Smart), who doesn’t like football jocks. Eventually, Mox manages to put everything back into perspective and attempts to remain true to his own values.
Varsity Blues has plenty of bone crunching football action, but it is Mox’s off field struggle with some of life’s complex questions that will sustain the interest. The hunky Van Der Beek will obviously be one of the main attractions for audiences. However, veteran Voight weighs in with another intense, oily performance as the obsessed and driven coach, and brings some bite to the clichéd part. Relative newcomers Scott Caan and Paul Walker are also solid as two of Mox’s team mates. Ron Lester (from Good Burger) brings a poignant touch to his role as the overweight but genial giant Billy Bob.
Varsity Blues is a strong and unusually sophisticated film for adolescents that delivers some important messages. It also proves that teen movies are capable of more than just ribald comedies and slasher flicks.