Every decade has a film that features an obscene amount of good, young talent that ends up in retrospect as a disgustingly loaded cast. In the 1980s it was The Outsiders, a veritable classic that featured a who’s who of A-list talent. In the 1990s Varsity Blues seemed poised to make that leap for a number of talented people and yet….didn’t. If anything the film’s only true star, Jon Voight, remained in his status as an iconic actor of another era in the same way Gene Hackman did in Hoosiers.
Mox (James Vander Beek) is the backup quarterback of a small town high school football team, happily biding his time until the season ends so he can attend Brown University. He’s a “rebel” who infuriates his coach (Voight) by thinking outside the box, dreaming of a better life outside of small town (and football crazy) Texas. His girlfriend (Amy Smart) encourages this dream and for now he’s enjoying the privilege of playing football with his buddies. When the team’s star quarterback (Paul Walker) blows his knee out, it’s up to him to save the season but not before it changes his worldview. But perhaps not for the better, as he’s soon to find out, as all the things he’s been able to avoid on the bench come into his world as the face of his town’s football squad. With the season on the line, Mox and his friends bond while going through all of the usual underdog sports clichés available with as much profanity and nudity as allowable under an R rating.
And for a while, Varsity Blues goes against the curve as a sports film because of Mox being a benchwarmer. The interactions between him, and his teammates, give it a different perspective then most films of the genre. Usually it’s about the star player, or player, overcoming something (usually another team). Mox being a benchwarmer, and lending a perspective from that angle, gives the film a whole other level of uniqueness in an otherwise bland genre. We always see the prince, but never the man behind the prince.
But once the man behind the throne becomes the man in it, in this particular case, it gets boring and meddlesome. When Mox ascends to the throne the film goes into sports cliché overdrive, driving the spark of originality and creativity that went into the film’s brilliant first act give way to the sorts of tired moments that make sports films a chore for the most part. Complete with the big speech at the end during the big at the big game at the end, which anyone who’s seen at least one underdog film knows how it’ll end. But no one could have seen that a cast that was supposed to be filled with breakout stars would wind up falling short of their potential.
As for James Van Der Beek, who became a breakout star on Dawson’s Creek shortly thereafter, this would be perhaps his biggest success as a film actor outside of a starring rule in The Rules of Attraction. The cast did introduce B-level action star Paul Walker, TV star Ali Larter, character actor Scott Caan and character actress Amy Smart to the world but no one from the film would grow to superstardom like several of the actors from The Outsiders did.
Varsity Blues remains, then, a lesser version of Hoosiers with more adult-oriented content.
The film’s a/v content hasn’t been changed since its first release onto DVD and remains the same as it was in the original release. This is a film with a lot of good music, sounds and scoring and a lot of interesting visuals that comes through wonderfully.
Football is a way of life: The making of Varsity Blues
A Commentary Track with Robbins and producers Tova Laiter & Mike Tollin is included.
Two a days: the Ellis way is a retrospective piece from the original DVD about the training that went in to the film to make the football realistic.
QB Game Analysis is a feature focusing on current NFL backup Josh McCown and high school football coach Mark Ellis, who came from a similar environment as the film portrays. McCown goes through and analyzes the good and bad of various plays in the film.
Billy Bob with no Bacon is about the extraordinary weight loss of Ron Lester, who played Billy Bob in the film. Dropping from over 500 lbs to under 200, dropping a total of 348 pounds via gastric bypass surgery, his main backer was legendary actor Jon Voight. Voight, who has been a close friend and mentor since the film, pushed him to drop the weight and the death of a morbidly obese rapper pushed him to have the surgery.
The film’s Theatrical Trailer is included.
With a couple of additional extras and the entire first edition DVD contents, the new edition of Varsity Blues is a solid viewing but nothing that is necessary viewing. If you neglected to pick it up the first time this is an improvement but isn’t a must have for fans of the film.
Paramount Pictures presents Varsity Blues. Directed by Brian Robbins. Starring James Van Der Beek, Amy Smart, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Scott Caan, Ali Larter. Written by W. Peter Iliff. Running time: 106 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: 9.15.2009. Available at Amazon.
Tags: Ali Larter, Jon Voight, Paul Walker