`Varsity Blues' falls short of goal line

January 15, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

If you think you know what's going to happen next in "Varsity Blues," you do.

An astonishingly predictable film about a Texas town that views high school quarterback as the most important job in the world, and the one kid in town who refuses to buy into that mind-set, "Varsity Blues" is most notable for giving Jon Voight the chance to chew all the scenery his incisors can reach.

It also offers TV's James Van Der Beek ("Dawson's Creek") a shot at big-screen stardom, but in a film that will hardly appeal to the teen-age girls who dominate his fan base.

Not many of them, I suspect, are going to go out of their way to see an R-rated football film.

Van Der Beek is Jonathan Moxon, backup quarterback for the West Canaan High Coyotes.

Problem is, Mox would rather be home reading Kurt Vonnegut than playing football -- an attitude that's anathema to the town folk, whose idea of godhood is Coach Kilmer (Voight), a vein-popping, wild-eyed, win-at-all-costs tyrant who makes Bobby Knight sound like a Hallmark card. But he's successful, he's been doing this for decades (just about every guy in town played for him as a teen-ager), and he's come to believe he's as infallible as everyone thinks he is.

Everyone, that is, except Mox. His big chance to expose Coach Blowhard comes when the star quarterback is injured and the spotlight is trained squarely on Mox -- who comes through in a way only possible in Hollywood.

Thus the test of wills is set: backup QB Mox vs. Coach Kilmer, with a town's soul -- not to mention the team's self-respect -- as the stakes. Wonder who's going to win?

Although Van Der Beek's Texas accent comes and goes, the young cast comports itself well, particularly Ron Lester as Billy Bob, an obese lineman who gets equal shares of praise and abuse from the coach.

And the football scenes capture enough energy to almost overshadow the film's flaws.

But 1983's "All the Right Moves" did a much better job of peeking inside the world of high school football.

"Varsity Blues" is strictly paint-by-numbers stuff.

`Varsity Blues'

Starring James Van Der Beek and Jon Voight

Directed by Brian Robbins

Released by Paramount

Rated R (language, sexual situations)

Running time: 100 minutes

Sun score: *1/2

Pub Date: 1/15/99

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