Sometimes you just need a predictable, crowd-pleasing movie where you don’t need to think — where the heroes and villains are so clearly defined and where can down that tub of Ben and Jerry’s without feeling guilty. “Varsity Blues” (1999) is that type of movie.
It takes place in West Canaan — a small Texas football town. High school football players are its heroes and Lance Harbor (played by a much younger Paul Walker) is its star. Like William Tell, Harbor has deadly aim. He can nail a football at a beer can resting on his father’s (Richard Lineback) head. And he does so as a parlor trick at a backyard barbeque. But when Harbor’s out of commission for the season from a serious knee injury, the West Canaan’s Coyotes are in trouble.
Harbor’s replacement is Jonathan Moxon, played by “Dawson’s Creek” heartthrob James Van Der Beek. According to West Canaan’s winningest coach, Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), the problem with Moxon is his moxie (actually, the term “moxie” might be beyond Kilmer’s vocabulary).
Although a second-string quarterback, Moxon isn’t a dumb football player. He’s destined for Brown University and he actually cares about academics. During games, we see him in the sidelines, hiding novels under his playbook. While his old man (Thomas F. Duffy) relives his glory days on the West Canaan Coyotes with his drinking buddies, the younger Moxon looks to the future: getting out of this dead-end football town.
Moxon’s girlfriend, Julie (Amy Smart), agrees with him. She seems to be the only one to do so though. The rest of West Canaan would rather erect giant billboards of the high school starting quarterback and give free six-packs to underaged football players. But Moxon’s not that type of guy.
Written by W. Peter Iliff and directed by Brian Robbins, “Varsity Blues” isn’t nearly Oscar-worthy. It’s the “American Pie” of football movies (Side note: “Varsity Blues” contains no pie, but I can promise you a brief whipped cream scene). Moxon’s younger brother, Kyle (Joe Pichler) bears the cross at the dining table like a quasi-Jesus. Moxon’s friend Billy Bob (Ron Lester) pukes in a washing machine and gets on the stage at a strip club. The film even features Senior Bacon (Billy Bob has a pet pig who likes to ride in his truck).
But even if the script is predictable; the performances are uninspired; and the material’s recycled, sometimes you’re compelled to re-watch those familiar decade-old stories. Your team just lost. Your coach just left. And there’s no more football this season.
There’s nothing like a football movie to put out of the blues.
“Varsity Blues” was written by W. Peter Iliff and directed by Brian Robbins.
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