Varsity Blues

Here’s a bright idea. Make a movie about high school football starring teenage and prison shower heartthrob James Van Der Beek (of “Melrose Creek,” or “Dawson’s Place,” or something like that). Then get MTV, the cable shrine for 14-year old Spice Girl fans on Prozac, to produce it. Top it off by rating the damn thing “R” so that all seven people who have an interest in seeing the film can’t get in without their parent.

Are times so jaded that Hollywood can’t make a high school film without littering it with more boobs than in Congress and more dirty words than in a Dennis Miller rant? What ever happened to the good old days when Hollywood could get away with making something upbeat (albeit sappy) like “One on One.”

The things they say and do in “Varsity Blues” aren’t appropriate for most 14-year-old girls, which would have been this film’s core audience. Writer W. Peter Iliff and director Brian Robbins aim for the lowest common denominator every time, reducing the film to nothing more than a raunchy melodrama about small town football and the people who live and breathe pigskin.

The characters have names like Mox, Billy Bob, Tiffany and Tweeter, and they all live in the small Texas town of West Canaan. Picture the small town in “The Last Picture Show” in the 1990’s.

The residents of West Canaan take their football very seriously, everyone except second-string quarterback Jonathan “Mox” Moxon ( Van Der Beek), who prefers studying and his steady gal to the jock life. Even though Mox is good, he’s not serious about the sport, much to the dismay of his father (Thomas F. Duffy) and coach (Jon Voight).

In true “the show must go on” fashion, Mox is propelled into the spotlight when the head quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) finds himself sidelined with a season-ending injury. At first reluctant to become a star athlete, Mox begins to succumb to the excesses of his success. Even Lance’s girlfriend (Ali Larter) decides to pursue the new prospect.

Those Texas women sure do love their football. If the film were about the conflicts raging inside of Mox, “Varsity Blues” could have been a contender. Instead, the film maker’s seem content to make it nothing more than another teenage sex comedy. They never miss an opportunity to expose some lovely young woman (or dress her up in whipped cream, definitely not on the Jenny Craig program).

To be fair, some of the male co- stars bare their butts, but not Van Der Beek. See, he’s the hunky young star of a popular television series on one of those obscure stations that usually feature reruns of “Friends” and original sitcoms that last about two weeks.

He can’t bare his butt because he has standards, which doesn’t explain his presence in “Varsity Blues.” Based on his performance here, it won’t be too long until Van Der Beek bares his butt in one of those direct-to-video thrillers with words like “fatal” and “basic” in the title. Then he’ll begging anyone to look at his butt.

It’s that kind of movie. You don’t care about the characters. Except for Jon Voight’s obsessive coach, all of the character’s are so thin they make Kate Moss look chubby. They’re caricatures, broadly drawn to the point of being embarrassing.

Director Robbins and writer Iliff aim for that small town ambiance, a kind of dust bowl “Cheers” where everyone knows your name. It’s all supposed to be homey and folksy, yet none of the actors ever connect on that level. Not once do you believe that these people have known each other longer than the two months they spent making the film.

The fake Texas accents rum the gamut, especially Van Der Beek, who talks as if he’s memorized Matthew McConaughey’s performance from Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused.”

Robbins, whose debut on “Good Burger” showed a flair for comedy, fails to deliver on that promise with “Varsity Blues.” The film is nothing more than a series of situations and cliched confrontations (the one where Van Der Beek tells his father that he doesn’t want to live his life) that lack energy and any emotional payoff.

What the film lacks in drama it more than makes up for in melodrama. Either the kids are having a wild time or they’re backed up against a wall by some lame plot device so they can get in touch with their feelings. Barf bag please.

“Varsity Blues” is the third film from MTV, whose first foray into feature films was “Beavis & Butthead Do America.” That film was rated PG-13, and was ten times funnier than “Varsity Blues.” The second film from MTV was “Dead Man on Campus,” which was about as funny as shoving a porcupine up your rear end and then hitting it with a stick.

MTV has better start prepping a new “Beavis & Butthead” film, because based on their track record, their films are getting progressively worse.



James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Scott Caan, Ron Lester, Richard Lineback, Amy Smart, Tiffany C. Love in a film directed by Brian Robbins. Rated R. 104 Min.


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