It was one of those languid Saturday nights where
your Show Biz Maven adjusted her spy glasses and watched eleven-year-olds filing in to see
the R rated VARSITY BLUES, a "teen drama" featuring James Van Der Beek,
heartthrob of television's "Dawson's Creek." Once the film began and it became
apparent that no adults would accompany their underage children, the Maven headed for one
of the ushers to complain. "Oh it's you again, Maven," came the retort. He then
continued to count the box-office receipts.
Meanwhile, your shell-shocked little Maven was in receipt of a piece of celluloid that
began with an homage to football and quickly segued into sex and booze. Put another way,
VARSITY BLUES is a film where twenty-year-old plus actresses are dressed (or here
undressed) to resemble high school seniors in training for Alcoholics Anonymous. In the
first ten minutes there was everything from a gratuitous barf scene and drinking binges to
sex exhibitionism, all prompting the familiar question: Could the Maven get her money
In Peter Iliff and John Gatins screenplay, VARSITY BLUES offers up more sermons than Billy
Graham. Caution: The opening narration will send diabetics into sugar overdose. This is
where the narrator reveals that as a boy growing up in West Canaan, Texas, the virtue of
football is never questioned. "It's win at all costs!" he tells us - something
we have heard from the Olympics officials.
Watching the action with an iron-like grip on the ball is Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight).
With twenty-two district championships and two state titles under his belt, he's hungry
for one more. Will the boys deliver? If they don't and Voight wants vengeance, he can
block their entry into Ivy League schools. Maybe that's why even seriously injured players
will allow the trainer to inject them with painkillers. It's either that or they are
injected with the humiliation from the coach. Only Van Der Beek sees through his
misdirected values. But what can he do?
As the game's unintentional hero, the TV star exhibits a mix of athleticism tainted with
the Boy Scouts handbook. Unfortunately, he finds himself surrounded by the town's dads who
have frittered away their lives in vicarious overdrive. Maybe that's why they line up so
eagerly as their sons take to the field. However, as the Show Biz Maven watched the film
along with the eleven-year-olds, Van Der Beek's character gets turned into a cardboard
demeanor usually reserved by older actors in Hollywood whose face lifts have frozen midway
through the operation.
Nothing seems to change the town until the star quarterback is injured and Van Der Beek
must fill in. By upholding the winning tradition, he's thrust into the limelight and
offered everything including loose girls who throw themselves at him as though he were on
a sale rack at Filenes's Basement. Unfortunately, he's not offered acting lessons. As a
bonus, there's one girl who suggests her own version of an ice cream sundae. When she
appears naked except for a few white puffs of whipped cream, our champion suddenly loses
Now at the pinnacle of Eagle Scout, director Brian Robbins paces Van Der Beek to show he's
also a softie for the squad's "fat boy" Billy Bob (Ron Lester), a kid so obese
that he drives around in a pick-up truck guzzling maple syrup. No wonder that even his
companion, a squealing pig, looks thin in comparison. To complete the picture, there's the
jock's weird little brother (Joe Pichler) that wanders in tied to a cross, and later
develops a penchant for praying. (Perhaps for a better script?)
Say what you will about the movie's football snippets. It's really Voight who carries the
ball. With age, the performer has landed more edgy roles than a roller coaster. You never
know when he's going to crack you up or merely crack up. But one thing is certain: As the
camera catches the veteran and the newcomer in the same frame, it separates the real thing
from the 8X10 glossy. Meanwhile, the audiences gets a lexicon of swear words (most of them
beginning with "f") in a southern drawl. In the words of one of the football
heroes, "F--- that."
With love & knishes from your Show Biz Maven.
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