Copyright © 2009 Ed Bagley
Varsity Blues – 3 Stars (Good)
Having seen a lot of sports movies that were over-hyped, over-rated and under-performed, it was a nice change of pace to watch “Varsity Blues”, a football movie that actually had a message worth watching as well as some good acting along with the usual comedic moments and turf violence.
Most sports movies are mindless to the point of being pure, often profanity-laced entertainment—they are something to watch to pass the time of day, but you will not become a better person for having seen them because there is no message, much less a meaningful message. Varsity Blues is different because this is not a typical Texas high school football story.
In Texas, football teams do not play games, they engage in serious, civilized warfare. Since massive killing and scorched Earth practices are not accepted in modern society, Texas fans and their teams seek the next best result—win EVERY bloody game, hopefully with total domination so there is no need for bragging rights.
This would be true for the West Canaan Coyotes, whose coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight) is seeking his 23rd division title in 35 years of coaching. Kilmer has been around long enough to coach his former players’ sons, and then some. He is so driven, focused, nasty and determined enough to win that he will sacrifice the very health of his own players to get the job done.
Jon Voight is perfect in this role. Kilmer is self-centered, self-absorbed and extremely needy for power, adulation and turf success. Football is close to religion in Kilmer’s world, and he is god. One of Kilmer’s mottos is “Never show weakness, the only pain that matters is the pain you inflict.”
When his star quarterback, Lance Harbor (Paul Walker), is injured because he was playing when he should not have even been on the field, his replacement, John Moxon (James Van Der Beek) must step into the leadership role.
Even though he is a Texas high school football player with some talent, Moxon is everything he should not be—football is not his priority, he wants to go to college to get an education rather than play football, and he gets caught reading a novel hidden in the play book he is supposed to be studying. Funny thing is, he leads the team right up to the championship game. What happens in the climatic ending to this film is the reason you should be watching.
James Van Der Beek picked up some notice as John Moxon in Varsity Blues. The film itself and the rest of the cast were ignored by virtually all award-givers everywhere. What remains is the message of Varsity Blues, which puts it head and shoulders above most mindless sports movies. You must be able to tolerate the usual foul language, crude jokes, nudity, sexual titillation, drug use and violence to appreciate what happens to the coach, the fill-in quarterback and his teammates.
Varsity Blues was written by W. Peter lliff (not a misspelling on the last name), and directed by Brian Robbins. Both deserve credit for lifting Varsity Blues up to a higher level beyond sheer, mindless entertainment.