TOM CRUISE AND CRAIG T. NELSON DISCOVER WINNING IS THE ONLY WAY OUT
About two weeks ago, I talked about coming-of-age movies when reviewing Adventureland. These are the movies that follow the fortunes of a young person, typically either not long graduated high school, or just about to. They concern themselves with the attempts made by that young person to find their place in the world, whether it’s going to college or travelling or getting a job, really just trying to do something with their life. In some places though, options are limited. There are places where you either go to college or you stay behind, get a job in the mill and never leave. In these places, getting out is all that matters. Such is the focus of All the Right Moves.
In the slowly dying Pennsylvania town of Ampipe, there are only two ways to go: the steel mill or a football scholarship. Stefen Djordjevic (Tom Cruise) is a high school footballer desperate to get out of town, but both he and the headstrong Coach Nickerson, who wants out just as much, clash as the school year comes to an end.
The script for All the Right Moves was written by Michael Kane, based on an article by one of America’s great sports writers Pat Jordan. It’s a great seed of a story, full of youthful longing, passion and dreams of a new generation hungry to take on the world. It’s really just a shame that it dropped the ball so much. The story is filled with cliché, right down to players who already have full scholarships being unable to leave because they got their girlfriends pregnant. Characters are also so incredibly flat and weak it’s ridiculous. Stefen is lacklustre as a main character and Lisa is not so much a person as an agent of the plot. Only Brian has any real emotional arc to him. Salvucci is actually more interesting, since things actually happen to him, but because we see him so little and the changes are so huge, it’s like a different person every time we see him. As such, he’s appallingly written. Also, I’ve still no idea who Bosko actually is. I’ve literally just finished watching the film and I can’t tell if he works in the mill, if he works in the school, if he’s the mayor of the town. He just shows up, is an asshole, and goes away again. There are nods in the direction of love and envy and following your dreams and letting go, but they’re done so flimsily, it’s difficult to take any of them to heart. It’s incredibly patchy as a whole work, and the ending is soft-hearted bullshit that makes little sense when considering the character motivation at the time.
This was the first film for Michael Chapman as director and you can really tell. There’s no sense of pace to the whole, and scenes just feel a rather flat. There are moments that should feel big, like they’re important occasions, such as the pep rally or the games themselves. However, they feel pretty limp. Chapman just doesn’t seem to have any sense of what kind of emotional pitch the movie has either, so the tone is all over the place. A later party scene where Stefen gives a drunken speech is a nightmare of inconsistency. I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be funny or tragic. Cruise’s performance does it little favours either, but we’ll get to that. The one thing the film does have going for it is a washed-out look. All colour seems to have a slightly muted, grey-ish quality to it, which nicely captures the downbeat feel of the town and the prospects for its future. Frankly, this should be the one place where the films works because not only is the cinematography done by Jan de Bont before he became a director, but Michael Chapman is himself an excellent, twice Oscar-nominated cinematographer, whose credits include Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Honestly, this is where Chapman’s skills lie, not in direction.
The acting throughout is also pretty patchy. As Stefen Djordjevic, Tom Cruise certainly looks the youthful part, and handles the slight cockiness well, but really brings a little too much intensity to the role. Cruise could always do the intense, hard stare bit, but this was long before he learned to control it. As such, Stefen can be kind of off-putting. Lea Thompson, on the other hand, doesn’t bring enough emotion to her role. This is mostly because she’s given a pretty weak character, but that she doesn’t really come out of herself is a problem, too. This makes the scenes with between Cruise and Thompson feel slightly uneven, because he’s a little too much and she’s not enough. Craig T. Nelson does well for himself, but still suffers from poor writing. Chris Penn might be the best thing in it, nicely capturing the fragility of Brian, whose dreams have been unceremoniously dashed, though he doesn’t quite see the arc all the way through to the end. Paul Carafotes is damn near schizophrenic for the constant shifts of mood you see him in. In fairness to him, Salvucci is the weakest-written character, but at times he actually manages to outdo Cruise for intensity. More than any of this, I felt no kind of connection between these people. They’re not friends, they just share a uniform.
Considering what the film is meant to be about, it says pretty much says nothing of worth. It may be an attempt to look at the dreams of youth and the prospects that face them, but makes no lasting commentary or consideration on any of it. The romantic subplot could be comfortably excised, everything with Salvucci could be removed without much bother, the scenes of family are completely undercooked… so what is it, then? What can I take from this film? I’m not sure I can really take anything from it. There’s no depth about what sports mean or what being part of a team can do for a person. There’s no strong pull of love or considerations of long-distance relationships. There’s really very little that merits this being a lasting film about youth, growing up or coming of age.
All the Right Moves is pretty poor, mediocre at best. The script is filled with holes, clichés and half-conceived ideas, the direction is weak, the standard of acting on show is pretty scattergun, and the prevalence of 80s synth power ballads date the film pretty badly. I can, to some degree, understand why it has lasted this long, what with it having Tom Cruise and Lea Thompson getting naked, but beyond that, it’s really not worth much.