TMN Sports Movie Review: "Varsity Blues"

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Rating: R
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: January 15, 1999
Directed by: Brian Robbins
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Romance

Few films capture the heart and woes of high school football like "Varsity Blues," a pleasant blend of humor and drama that is sure to leave audiences begging for more. Mox is a studious football player who cares little about the game, but when his friend's injury pushes him to lead the team as quarterback, he feels the full pressure of his position from both his father and his obsessive coach. "Varsity Blues" is a classic football film that boasts all the elements of an entertaining movie.

In the small town of West Canaan, Texas, high school football is a big deal for the community, and the young players carry an enormous weight on their shoulders during every game. This is especially true thanks to the overbearing Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), a legendary coach who cares about winning no matter the consequences. He has led the team to 22 district championships and two state titles, and the star quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) is ready to help the team win yet again.

Jonathon Moxon (James Van Der Beek), also known as "Mox," is the team's backup quarterback and one of Lance's closest friends. He seems to have everything going for him, with a great girlfriend, academic skills and popularity, but he despises his life in West Canaan and wants nothing more than to leave the state for Brown University. However, his father is obsessed with football and wants him to focus his attention on the varsity sport. When an unexpected knee injury leaves Lance out of the game, Mox reluctantly takes his place. However, Mox knows that coach Kilmer was encouraging Lance's trainer to give him cortisone shots for an existing knee injury, making his final collapse all the more crippling. Of course, he denies any such thing before Mox's eyes while at the hospital.

Mox soon becomes fed up with Kilmer's treatment of the game and the players, so he begins disobeying the coach. After all, he really doesn't care whether the team wins or loses. Tension mounts between him, coach Kilmer and his father, especially when Mox receives a scholarship to Brown University. After Kilmer blackmails him into playing to win, Mox's faith in his team grows even as their respect for Kilmer wanes. During a key game, a time comes when the power-hungry coach takes his attitude too far.

Audiences coming into the film may be expecting just another teenage football drama, but "Varsity Blues" is surprisingly fresh in its delivery. It does include its fair share of clich├ęs, but the story itself takes so many twists and turns that viewers have a hard time predicting the next move. The film examines the pressures faced by high school football players, particularly those living in a community where football is seen as one of the greatest achievements in life. The poor treatment Mox and his team receive from the coach and the painful nagging of Mox's father attempting to live vicariously through him are some of the major sources of drama for the plot. The introduction of a quarterback who doesn't care about winning is an interesting addition that makes for some tense scenes.

The emotional moments in the film, particularly during the climax, are played out well. The film also delivers some exciting football scenes that are sure to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the film, however, is its talented acting cast. James Van Der Beek has no problem carrying the film on his shoulders as the rebellious, discontented Mox, creating a likable character who gives audiences someone to cheer. The late Paul Walker gives a great performance in one of his earlier roles, setting the stage for a successful career. Jon Voight is known for playing volatile roles, making his casting as coach Kilmer the perfect choice. Amy Smart, Richard Lineback and the rest of the supporting cast hold their own as well, resulting in an overall commendable performance from a stand-out cast.

"Varsity Blues" may not be the best in the league, but it certainly plays a great game with a fun plot that mixes in some drama and thoughtful dialog. It is a great examination of the real problems that players face, but it doesn't make the mistake of being all seriousness. It also has a wide enough appeal to entertain both football fans and casual viewers with fresh jokes and tense character interactions. In the end, "Varsity Blues" is a must-watch for movie lovers of all backgrounds and interests.