Smalltown football star Stef Djordjevic dreams of getting a football scholarship that will get him out of the narrow town confines and offer him the chance for a proper education. First though, he must deal with his hardnosed coach and the pressures of being young.
Back when Tom Cruise was still a spindly wetback with a glean of superstardom in his baby-blues, he took on the symbolic role of a young jock with dreams of something better. And while it would be overstating matters to identify this film as a mirror of Cruise’s rise to glory, there is a tender resonance in its cheesy sports drama operating with all the obvious moves.
Anyway, it transpired America was really in the mood for such aspirational twaddle, as in the very same year Flashdance played an identical game replacing this Western Pennsylvanian steeltown with Pittsburgh and a welder with dreams of being a dancer. There is, at least, with Michael Chapman’s less glossy designs, a sense of reality in the rundown town offering little more than unemployment and poverty once the hallowed days of school are done.
The school too, tackles genuine tribulations rather than the soap operatics of the similarly minded Varsity Blues: Stef’s relationship with his girlfriend (Thompson) is complicated and honest (she is terrified if he gets out he will never return), while the kids in general are caught up with the awkward embarrassments and emotions of growing up. The central message, tied up both in the football and in the school body, is, “What am I worth?” when the world around convinces them, not much at all.
That said, we are not talking about profound revelations. Cruise, at just 22, is doggedly one-dimensional and his sparring with overbearing Nelson’s Coach Nickerson is as hoary a set of clichés as they come. And despite all its working-class, quasi-socialist trappings, the film is finally flogging the ragged old tale of following the American Dream.
Cliched and clunky. Not really a great showcase for Cruise or Chris Penn.
Reviewed by Ian Nathan