AT FIRST, backup quarterback Jonathan "Mox" Moxon (Van Der Beek) is nowhere close to being a football star. He's perfectly content to stay on the bench and out of the win-at-all-cost strategies of coach. But when the starting quarterback is injured, Mox is in the game...and in direct conflict with his hotheaded coach and girlfriend.
Sure, VARSITY BLUES delivers an incisive look at the insane pressures and the sheer callousness which surround sports. Even more specifically it offers a peek at how the game of football gains godlike status in small rural towns, what with nothing else to distract the natives but tipping cows, hanging at honky tonks, and harvesting whatever. In West Canaan, Texas, football rules all, fathers live vicariously thru their sons, and the local high school football team is administered with a monstrous iron-fisted grip by Coach Bud Kilmer (played by Jon Voight with maniacal glee). Coach Kilmer thinks nothing of bending rules, thinks nothing of placing his own athletes in jeopardy. Because winning trumps all, and glory is everything. That statue of him looming over the football field is everything.
But what happens when the celebrated hometown hero quarterback goes down for the season? And what's left is an iconoclastic second-string quarterback who isn't willing to sip the coach's Kool-Aid? Can even a kid as grounded as Mox withstand the overwhelming barrage of fame and worship (and free beer) now directed his way? When Mox starts conducting interviews in which he thanks God and refers to himself in the third person, his level-headed girlfriend sure isn't impressed.
So when you're watching VARSITY BLUES there's a whole mess of sports tropes you can check off the list. In a sports movie, it's really hard to steer clear of them tropes. What makes VARSITY BLUES one of the better films in its genre is the heart that went into it. Director Brian Robbins was directed to craft a raunchy PORKY'S-type comedy, and while the raunchiness remains, Robbins' willingness to buck the suits won out. Robbins preferred to make a HOOSIERS-type film, and I do think this picture, by a nose hair, dispenses more gravitas than locker room levity. It has stuff to say, and while we may have heard the message before, this movie delivers it with damning insight. Maybe it all boils down to Mox harshly telling his dad: "Playing football at West Canaan may have been the opportunity of your lifetime, but I don't want your life."
Not to play devil's advocate (except, now, I guess I'm gonna), I will say that, despite being such a lowdown martinet, Coach Kilmer was justified in several of his dressing downs of Mox. Mox had no business reading a book during practice or taking his teammates drinking on the eve of a game. Still, Jon Voight excels at getting hissed at and his character, at heart, really is a despicable, sadistic tool. Voight's presence never fails to lend legitimacy onscreen.
VARSITY BLUES came out in 1999, and features a terrific ensemble cast, anchored by a very good James Van Der Beek as "Mox." Paul Walker, Amy Smart, and Ali Larter were your basic up-and-comers back then, but they all oozed potential. Ron Lester as Billy Bob is wonderful, and the ad-libbing Scott Caan is utterly hilarious as Tweeder, the hard-drinking loose cannon wide receiver who ends up stealing all the scenes and, at one point, the police squad car.
Sports writer Bill Simmons claimed that ALL THE RIGHT MOVES demonstrated better bone-crunching football action, but VARSITY BLUES itself isn't sparing with the hard-hitting football sequences, and some folks seriously get stretched on screen. I label VARSITY BLUES as a sports drama, but plenty of times you'll laugh your what off. So many standout moments in this movie: The William Tell challenge at the barbecue; the "Too Hot for Teacher" sequence; Mox's oddball younger brother and his goofy quest for religion; the fact that no mascot is safe from getting a faceful of football; and "You want some cheese with that whine?"; and, omigosh, the whip cream bikini. I'm calling this movie a classic.
The DVD's special features: a pretty listenable commentary ten years after the movie's release with Director Brian Robbins and Producers Tova Laiter and Mike Tollin; "Football is a Way of Life": the Making of VARSITY BLUES (00:17:46 minutes); "Two-A-Days the Ellis Way" - the cast undergoes training camp under football coordinator Mark Ellis (00:07:48); QB Game Analysis - Mark Ellis and NFL and ex-Texas quarterback Josh McCown critique the film's football aspects and reflect on how the film so closely emulates the small town lifestyle and its obsession with football (00:15:15); Billy Bob with No Bacon - a segment intercutting between the present-day and much, much thinner Ron Lester and the humongous Ron Lester of a decade ago (00:04:39); and the theatrical trailer for VARSITY BLUES.
Varsity Blues James Van Der Beek and all star cast made this movie a really cool football movie, all the scenes with James Van Der Beek on the field that's really him playing football, he got a football injury that's why he took up acting.
I am so glad I finally found this!!!! I have been looking everywhere for it!!!!!!!!!!! I ordered this the same night I ordered Running Scared with Paul Walker. When I found out he was in this along with James Van Deer Beek I had to order it!!!!! The shipping was a little slower this time.. Didn't arrive the day promised but got it one day after.... This is my favorite football movie next to Friday Night Lights and The Blind Side...