Van Der Beek Shows his Moxy
"Varsity Blues" with it's storyline of high school and Friday night football wouldn't feel out of place in one of the teen TV dramas which come and go every few years. And to be honest it is no surprise as Dawson Creek's own James Van Der Beek is the star and he is accompanied by various other young actors who wouldn't look out of place in a small screen teen series. As such this story of a town where Friday night football dominates everything especially the young men who play under immense pressure and expectation feels almost like a cliche vehicle just to showcase the young stars. It does have moments of depth and a brilliant performance from Jon Voight as Coach Kilmer but for the most it plays out like you expect with a blend of American Football and some teen issues as the hero of the piece Mox takes a stand against Kilmer's bullying reign.
The residents of West Canaan live for their Friday Night Football and expect great things from the West Canaan Coyotes. They are not the only ones as Coach Kilmer (Jon Voight - Mission: Impossible) expects greatness as well and expects the teenagers who play for him to win at all costs. When the hero and captain of the Coyotes, Lance Harbor (Paul Walker - Eight Below), is sidelined for the season 2nd string Quarter Back John "Mox" Moxon (James Van Der Beek - Texas Rangers) comes in to take his place and soon becomes the town's new hero as he leads the team to a string of victories. But Mox disagrees with the bullying ways of Coach Kilmer and attempts to unite his colleagues to play the game the way it should be played, for the love of it rather than in fear of Kilmer.
So as already mentioned on face value "Varsity Blues" appears to be just a vehicle to showcase what was then hot, fresh talent. The storyline which sees young Mox go from a derided 2nd string Quarter Back to being the star of the game and idolised is for the most obvious as his head gets turned by his sudden popularity. But you know that with Mox being the good guy, the sensitive type who reads books for pleasure is going to realise how shallow his new popularity is and challenge the system of win at all cost which is drilled into the team. It never once strays from this formula and you can sense the ending long before it ever arrives.
But strangely whilst being for the most a sporting cliche "Varsity Blues" works and captures how important Friday night football is for a town. And in doing so you also get a sense of how much pressure these young men are under as football is no longer about playing the game but winning no matter what. It's not the most powerful scene I have ever witnessed but a scene where Billy Bob ends up blaming himself for Lance's injury and hits rock bottom thanks to the constant bullying of Coach Kilmer does highlight how in the case of "Varsity Blues" these men are almost brain washed by Kilmer following his commands no matter what.
Thankfully "Varsity Blues" is not just about Friday Night Football and there is some pleasant distraction when it comes to the teenage issues and hijinks. So it maybe not the most realistic when we have a scene featuring Tweeter, played by Scott Caan, stealing a police car and then driving through town with an entourage of naked girls but it is amusing. As is the now famous scene which sees Ali Larter in a whipped cream bikini in the hope of seducing Mox. It's the sort of teenage fun which you expect more from a teen comedy but it helps lighten what could have been quite a serious movie with out it.
As for the acting well the young cast which alongside James Van Der Beek also features Paul Walker, Ali Larter, Scott Caan and Amy Smart all deliver entertaining but also quite forgettable performances. These are the sort of performances and characters which as I mentioned earlier wouldn't feel out of place in a TV teen drama with James Van Der Beek playing the good guy, the one who is a bit of a thinker, a little quieter than everyone else and who of course has the equally nice girl friend. But the real star of "Varsity Blues" is Jon Voight whose performance as bullying Coach Kilmer is perfect. You get a real sense that maybe once he did coach because he loved the sport but now it is all about him being a winner, getting another title and doing what ever it takes to win it even to the detriment of his players. Voight makes him evil enough so that we dislike him but not to the extent that he becomes a pantomime bully.
What this all boils down to is that "Varsity Blues" is an entertaining movie with its blend of sports cliche and teen comedy. And with it's young talent feels very much like something you would see in a TV teen drama. But with the exception of a couple of scenes such as the whipped cream bikini and Jon Voight's performance as the bullying coach it is for the most forgettable, a pleasant, fun distraction but nothing more.