Call it "Dawson's Cleats".
WB resident James Van
Der Beek tries the big screen on for size with "Varsity Blues", an all-too-familiar portrait of a group of small town high school footballers who ultimately make All The Right Moves after seeing their way through a barrage of physical and psychological obstacles.
While Van Der Beek manages to make the transition with most of that "Dawson's Creek" sweetness intact, the tired, corn-fed storyline and generic, plug-and-play direction quickly give rise to the question, "Where's Adam Sandler when you need him?"
Given its pre-Super Bowl positioning and potential built-in "Dawson's Creek" demo, the MTV Films production probably won't have Paramount crying the blues, but neither will it be a boxoffice overachiever.
Van Der Beek plays second-string West Canaan Coyotes quarterback Jonathan Moxon, a good student with aspirations beyond the gridiron (he spends his time on the sidelines reading Kurt Vonnegut) which automatically puts him at odds with bullying head coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight
) who's hell-bent on leading his team to their 23rd division title.
Of course, nobody likes a smart boy, especially in a town that has at least one very obese character called Billy Bob
(Ron Lester) and a distinct fondness for the phrase, "sumabitch."
But Jonathan ends up going head-to-head with Kilmer when star quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker) suffers an injury that will put him out of commission for two seasons, thrusting Moxon into the limelight.
As it turns out, keeping his team's spirits up and winning the division aren't the only items on Mox's full plate. There are also the matters of living out his father's own failed high school football dreams, handling the transferred affections of Harbor's cheerleader girlfriend (Ali Larter
), while trying to hold onto his relationship with Harbor's unimpressed sister (Amy Smart
), not to mention how he's going to deal with Kilmer's less-than-ethical ways of treating player injuries.
Since this is a story with zero semblance of originality or unpredictability, all will be tied up with a cute little bow at the end, with Mox providing a closing voice-over assuring us that he'll never forget that championship season.
Whatever cliches may have been inadvertently left out of W. Peter Iliff
's derivative script, have thoughtfully been visually incorporated thanks to Brian Robbins' ("Good Burger") no-brainer directing style. The modus operandi here appears to be, when in doubt, go for the slo-mo.
Although Van Der Beek doesn't exactly register strongly here, he remains likable enough despite the uninspiring material. As his chief nemesis, Voight adds yet another heavy to his ever-growing roster of arched-eyebrowed adversaries. He's certainly up to more challenging stuff.
As the chronic party animal, Scott Caan
displays some of dad James' early Young Buck
bravado; while Ali Larter
shows some spark as the town tramp who's afraid she'll never leave home despite her way with a can of whipped cream.
Production values are certainly more than serviceable, with solid work from cinematographer Charles Cohen, whose affinity for shooting athletics was previously demonstrated with "The Waterboy", "Little Giants", and, particularly, "Without Limits", a sports picture that refreshingly broke the generic mold at every turn with nary a Billy Bob
In association with MTV Films
A Marquee Tollin/Robbins prod. in association with Tova Laiter
Director: Brian Robbins
Producers: Tova Laiter
, Mike Tollin, Brian Robbins
Screenwriter: W. Peter Iliff
Executive producers: David Gale and Van Toffler
Director of photography: Charles Cohen
Production designer: Jaymes Hinkle
Editor: Ned Bastille
Costume designer: Wendy Chuck
Music supervisor: G. Marq Roswell
Music: Mark Isham
Jonathan Moxon: James Van
Coach Bud Kilmer: Jon Voight
Lance Harbor: Paul Walker
Billy Bob: Ron Lester
Tweeder: Scott Caan
Jules Harbor: Amy Smart
Darcy: Ali Larter
Wendell: Eliel Swinton
Running time -- 106 minutes
MPAA Rating: R