Varsity Blues (1999)

Varsity Blues, from the schizophrenic director (and "Eric" from "Head of the Class") Brian Robbins (the fascinating and worthwhile rap documentary The Show, the annoying and inexplicable kid laffer Good Burger), is another conundrum.

Purporting to show a slice of teenage life today, it exploits its young stars inexcusably. Purporting to condemn the things which drag teenagers down, it instead condemns them when they aren't done by teenagers, I guess because older people don't look as pretty getting drunk, stealing things, advocating date rape, and hanging out in strip clubs.

The preceding paragraph may sound a little harsh, so I'll interrupt and say that Varsity Blues has some good pacing, at least one good laugh, and isn't terribly hard to sit through. If you're offended or worried by one thing, chances are the rest of the movie will contain enough different things to distract you and keep you at least mildly interested almost until the credits roll.

Varsity Blues is the story of Jon Moxon (James Van Der Beek of "Dawson's Creek"), a brainy kid who dreams of the Ivy League while suffering through the last few football games of the season in West Canaan, Texas. His main obstacle is the abrasive and ruthless football coach, Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), who uses questionable and dangerous tactics, whatever it takes to win his twenty-third "district championship," whatever that is. He also keeps hinting to the team that should they win the district, they'll go to the state championships, but that would ruin the dramatic countdown to season's end, so it's conveniently forgotten.

The story gets into a bit of a quagmire, not able to sustain its central conflict very long. (Jon Voight threatens to blow the blinking pinhead Der Beek off the screen in the three or four confrontations they have, so to sustain that just wouldn't work.) So we get girlfriends who switch their allegiance as fast as rolling off a condom, a teacher who leads a secret life (in one of the most pointless and confusing meanderings), ancient football rivalries, and a little brother who needs to pick a religion (though his explorations make him likable, keeping him outside and above the confused fray of the film's plot).

Overall, the film is such a mess that the little momentum which is built seems a real miracle.

There is a certain momentum that the film does build. It's the most basic sort of countdown/obstacles/big game/final obstacle tomfoolery, but Robbins winds it as tight as it's gonna get, which takes some skill. Overall, though, I was so put off by the sheer vapidity of the story, the characters, and the acting, that there wasn't much directorial chutzpah that was going to change my mind.

James Van Der Beek is so wrong to play the central character of any film that I hesitate to ever switch over to "Dawson's Creek" whatever night of the week it's on that wanna-be network it's on. Okay, I admit I watched it once, but again, Van Der Beek's non-presence caused me to switch away before I dozed off. Why? That is my question. What are these weird trends, like the popularity of Titanic, Furbies, and Yanni, which not only make you cringe by their very existence, but also by their evil power to ensnare your usually intelligent friends and neighbors? Flavor of the month, thy name is Der Beek.

To sum up, four or five naked chicks, three guys' butts (not James Van's), strippers, sex, drunkenness, and a fat guy. One laugh, little suspense, no real drama. Lots and lots of varsity and blues (what?).


Links for Varsity Blues

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

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