Review: Varsity Blues (1999)

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Director: Brian Robbins | 100 minutes | drama, comedy, sports | Actors: James Van Der Beek, Amy Smart, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Ron Lester, Scott Caan, Eliel Swinton, Richard Lineback, Ali Larter, Tiffany C. Love, Thomas F. Duffy, Jill Parker-Jones, Tonie Perensky, Joe Pichler, Mark Walters, Brady Coleman, James N. Harrell, Jesse Plemons, Sam Pleasant, Tim Crowley, Don Cass, James Michael O’Brien, Mark Robert Ellis, Robert Lott

You wouldn’t want to be on his team so easily! Jon Voight excellently plays the role of the ruthless football coach in the MTV-produced “Varsity Blues”. You certainly wouldn’t want to be the couch-seeker who plays James Van Der Beek in the beginning either, because the coach has the cock on him. For his first starring role since the TV series “Dawson’s Creek” (1998-2003), he dressed himself in dark hair, Texan accent and extra muscle bundles. Like Dawson, Mox is a sympathetic character, only a bit rougher and sportier. Van Der Beek certainly makes an impression, especially when he defies coach Kilmer and his pep talk during the final.

Before Paul Walker transitioned into adult roles with “The Fast and the Furious” (2001), he played Lance Harbor, star quarterback of West Canaan. The then obese Ron Lester is the lovable linebacker Billy Bob. Scott Caan (more than just James Caan’s son) gained fame with this film for his role as the clownish Charlie Tweeder. Here he plays a sort of Stifler, pacesetter from “American Pie”, but this was followed by roles in “Boiler Room” (2000) and “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001).

The rest of the team is made up of professional Texas football players who could pass as high school students. So Van Der Beek, Walker and Caan are doing well in terms of appearance. The handsome Ali Larter from “Final Destination” (2000) and the beautiful Amy Smart from “The Butterfly Effect” (2004) are also featured as two very different player friends.

What makes “Varsity Blues” special is that the teen film is also well represented in terms of content. Director Brian Robbins is a sports fanatic and he wanted to make a recognizable film for his audience about the (too great) pressure that parents, teachers and sometimes even entire villages in America place on children to perform well in sports. How winning football players and their coach are worshiped as demigods. How someone should choose between their own future or that of their teammates after the experience of success.

In “Varsity Blues” enough teenage fun is often spurred on by Tweeder. Think of America’s Funniest Shots in the Nuts, a drinking and vomiting competition, a stolen police car, strip club and whipped cream bikini. Hats or rather hats off to Scott Caan, who in a scene with naked women chose to be naked because he thought it was sexist otherwise. Fortunately, this adolescent humor is always in support of the story. The action is fierce and real, the result of preparation, coordination and many nights of shoots on a huge field. The actors received special football training for their roles on the team, four hours of football camp every day. In “Varsity Blues” the action, drama and humor elements alternate at a rapid pace so that you as a viewer are never bored for a minute. Touchdown!

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