Wednesday, June 15, 2011

All The Right Moves (DVD) 1983 / a film by Michael Chapman; starring Tom Cruise, Craig T. Nelson and Lea Thompson

For 18-year-old Stefan "Stef" Djordjevick, the only way to escape his bleak Pennsylvania steel town is with a football scholarship. A star defensive back on his high school team, he knows that each game, each performance is critical to the rest of his life. Stef's not the only one who wants out. Everyone including his girlfriend wants to escape their grim surroundings and the inevitably dismal future which comes with it. Even Stef's head coach, the gutsy but verbally abusive Coach Nickerson dreams of riding his winning team to a championship and hopefully a much better position ("somewhere far away") as an assistant in college. The night of the defining game holds high stakes, higher still when things don't go right and the tension between Stef and Coach Nickerson becomes hostile to a point where both their plans and dreams come crashing to a hault.

Right from the start, this movie makes one thing unavoidably clear: there's a mill, and it's not an all that happy-fun place to work. Like the wide-screen close-up of a frozen Jack Nicholson revealed in Kubrick's The Shining, the steel mill is brought abruptly to viewer attention in the film's opening shot. There is nothing even remotely good about the mill. Absolutely everything, every devastatingly sad element of the town from its name, Ampipe, dubbed after the "American Steel & Pipe" company, right down to the drab homes of the workers emanates from the tomb-like structure atop the hill.  No one is left unscarred by its grim (and grimey) presence, from the miserable workers who trudge up the hill every morning to the even more miserable workers who are laid off daily and the multitudes of dependents and non-workers who, like Stef, plod through lives of quiet desperation. Consequently there are no smiling faces in Ampipe, only the leering, hungover scowls of men and the vacant stares of defeated women. The one outlet (other than alcohol) available to the people of Ampipe is also something toxic, as corrupting and pestilential within itself as the pollution spewing from the smoke stacks. Given to living vicariously through the lives of 17 and 18-year-olds, the entire town exists in a sort of emotional vacuum where a stumble here or a miscall there defines far more than collective misfortune. It proliferates a system which necessitates bitter personal conflicts, distorts the truth, neglects higher priorities and fosters evil intentions. The individual opportunities created stand as the lone redeeming element. That the theme of dead-end industrial commerce within a small, rural community is relentlessy driven home for viewer enlightenment is probably a good thing because nothing else in the movie is very significant. As a film All The Right Moves is, well, kind of dumb. Cliche, cliche, cliche--it goes without saying. It's a little embarassing watching Tom Cruise, who looks so ridiculously out-of-place that comparisons to Rudy will inevitably get thrown around by viewers who've only seen the latter, and even the always effervescent Lea Thompson seems badly miscast as the dowdy, enabling girlfriend whose own passions for music are cruelly overlooked. But the movie's so dated it entertains with its camp value, maintaining a kitsch effect popular with 80's movies these days, much of it do to the lamentably tacky (funny in an ironic way) teen aphorisms and awkward slang strewn throughout the dialogue. Plus, like so many bad books and movies, the cover art is noticeably good. (DVD ALL) 

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