Varsity Blues

on January 15, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
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   "Varsity Blues'" West Canaan, Texas, is like a lot of small American towns: The high school football team not only hogs all of the attention at school, but is a source of pride for the entire community. Billboards brag about the team's winning record; the police turn a blind eye at the raucous celebration parties; and everyone prays for the health of the star quarterback, Lance Harbor (Paul Walker).
   So when Lance gets hurt during a not-so-freak accident on the field, the townspeople are a little concerned about his replacement, the unenthusiastic Jonny "Mox" Moxon ("Dawson's Creek's" James Van Der Beek). More interested in Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" than the team's playbook, Mox does at first enjoy the ambushes from television reporters and the newfound attention from coeds. Ultimately, though, he finds himself going up against militaristic coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), a man willing to sacrifice his players' health for his 23rd district championship.
   "Varsity Blues'" greatest strength--and what might turn some audiences off--is its close approximation to the truth. Yeah, all the humor is derived from flatulence, sex and vomit, but isn't that most likely what high school boys really do talk about in the locker room? Cinematographer Charles Cohen ("The Waterboy," "Without Limits") shoots the games--and the hits--up close and personal, and crunching sound effects reiterate the game's violent nature.
   Van Der Beek for the most part manages to avoid all but a few of those cheesy "Dawson" moments, and Voight shines as a redneck jerk who crumbles into a sympathetic, tired old man when his team rebels. These two head a cast of stock characters who still manage to make the movie fun--the funny fat guy, the horny hick, the head cheerleader. Herein, though, lies the film's essential flaw: sexism. Only two female characters are quasi-developed, and only one can resist tearing off all her clothes for the star of the football team. Perhaps that's part of "Varsity Blues'" inherent reality, if not in the characterization of women, then in the perception of them. Starring James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Ron Lester and Scott Caan. Directed by Brian Robbins. Written by W. Peter Iliff. Produced by Tova Laiter, Mike Tollin and Brian Robbins. A Paramount release. Drama. Rated R for strong language throughout, sexuality and nudity, and some substance abuse. Running time: 103 min
Tags: Texas, teen, football, sex, high school, romance, sports, James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Ron Lester, Scott Caan, Amy Smart, Ali Larter, Brian Robbins, Mike Tollin
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