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"Semi-Tough" has got to be one of the best comedies of all time. The
casting is perfect, and the acting is very understated. You could really
identify with Kris Kristofferson, Bert Reynolds, and Jill Clayburgh as lost
children of the 1960s looking for the answers to life in the 1970s. They
parody to a "T" some of the self-help and consciousness raising scams of
I especially loved the thinly disguised "BEAT" which closely paralleled "est" (Erhard Seminars Training, and they always wrote the acronym in lower case) which attracted many followers. I had the misfortune that year of working for a boss who was an est graduate (they called themselves "estholes") and two ex-hippie co-workers. est was their life, almost like a religion to them, and they were always pressuring the other workers on the team to take est. They had their own language -- e.g. "I'll take responsibility for that," "We have an agreement," and especially "I got it." (meaning I understand it). While Kris Kristofferson "got" the training, Jill Clayburgh did not. Since they wanted to get married they were afraid of a "mixed marriage." Fortunately Burt Reynolds also takes BEAT training and pretends to "get it" although you later learn he saw right through it from the beginning. Burt Convy as the seminar leader bore a striking resemblance to Warner Erhard, the founder and leader of est.
For your $300, the training consisted of two weekends spent in a hotel ballroom from about 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM both days. There were no breaks even to eat or go to the bathroom (no kidding!) The stunts in the movie paralleled the real est training, with things like lying on the floor hugging your pillow while kicking your feet in the air. After the training you were supposedly a changed person, free of your old hang-ups. Fortunately, I found another job where I was not subject to "estual harassment."
Robert Preston, the Team Owner, played his role perfectly too. To a background of Gene Autry records which matched his own view of the world, he tried many other psychic movements, including crawling around on the floor rather than walking. They also tried "Pelfing," a thinly veiled send-up of Rolfing. In fact, one other football player was a devotee of "pyramid power," proudly wearing a pyramid from a necklace.
This movie has been on TV but not recently. It would be fun to see it again. Interesting that the IMDB poll for this movie shows that viewers over 45 enjoyed it much more than the kids under 18. Yeah, they weren't around during those happy days of Disco, Leisure Suits, disaster movies, gas lines, est, Lifespring, Rolfing, Pyramid Power, and of course, "Happy Days."
If you enjoyed "Semi-Tough," another film you'd like is "Serial."
Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristhofferson play two pro football players who are interested in the the daughter of the owner of the team. This movie is actually humorous. It shows what these two guys will do to try to win over the girl who is playing these guys off against each other and enjoying every second if it. Two men competing for the girl, and willing to make total fools of themselves in the process, until the Burt Reynolds character wises up, steps back, examines the situation objectively and then plots his strategy to gain the girl's attention. It's not the greatest movie, and it's definitely not a sports movie, but it's worth watching, has funny moments, and shows what a guy is willing to do to get a woman.
Well, I loved the book - absolutely LOVED it! This film is a sort of decent stab at adapting Dan Jenkins great book, but, mainly due to language and Political Correctness, it ends up falling flat. Much of the humor in the book is racial (both directions, by the way), sophomorically sexual or otherwise politically incorrect. Since much of that had to be dropped from the film, a good bit of the books' humor is lost. And, as with many films, there is less room for character development than in a book. Still, with Burt Reynold and Jill Claiburgh, it has some considerable charm and humor. The story line is pretty faithful to the book, although there are a couple of changes that I wish hadn't been made to the story. Kris Kristofferson offers up a surprisingly good performance, and he's never impressed me as an actor before (nor singer either, for that matter). Overall, not a bad film, but you'd probably like the book better - I do!
Jenkins's novel is one of the funniest books ever written, and THE
funniest sports novel. The movie is a total trashing of Jenkins's work.
It retains only the title, the names of a few of the characters, none
of the book's plot, and none of its humor. The storyline bears
absolutely no resemblance to the book. Billy Clyde's diary of the week
leading to the Super Bowl, with all its hilarity, has been replaced by
a silly look at self-improvement fads and crazes and Gene Autry music.
Reynolds and Kristofferson are not believable as professional football
players, although Kris would have been a great Elroy Blunt, had that
important character been retained from the book. The problem was that
Jenkins lost control of the scriptwriting. When the scene in which
Billy Clyde and Shake are discussing their rating system for women was
written, it used the Dudley Moore scale of 1-10, with 10 being tops.
Jenkins informed the director that in the book, the scale went the
other way, with a "1" being the top vote. He was informed, "This is the
I give this one a "1", using the movie's scale.
If you'd read the book and then went to see the movie, you probably ran
screaming from the theater, vowing revenge on the @$$hole writers,
director and producers who ruined one of the funniest sports books ever
written. The thinly-veiled send-up of "est" was funny enough, but who
the heck made that up? It sure wasn't the author of "Semi-Tough",
sportswriter Dan Jenkins. I understand the compromises that must often
be made when bringing a book to the screen, I understand that cuts and
character deletions are necessary to squeeze a good-sized novel into a
2-hour (or so) movie) - but why rewrite the whole damn thing? Big Ed
Bookman as the team owner? Where did that $h!t come from? Nothing about
what they did to this movie made a lick of sense. Do yourself a favor -
instead of trying to track down a copy of this movie on DVD (it's out
there), get a copy of the book (it's been recently re-released in trade
paperback format) and laugh yourself silly - then track down copies of
"Life Its Ownself" and "Rude Behavior" (they're both a bit harder to
come by - for reasons I can't fathom), the 2 follow-ons to
"Semi-Tough", and laugh some more.
Then - go find copies of every book by Dan Jenkins that you can lay your hands on and read them all: "Baja Oklahoma", "You Gotta Play Hurt", "Dead Solid Perfect" (the "Semi-Tough" of golf, featuring Kenny Lee Puckett, another Fort Worth native. This book also had an unfortunately mediocre movie made out of it - but with the minor thrill of seeing the luscious Corinne Bohrer (who usually plays squeaky-clean suburban mommies) as the lascivious and uninhibited Janie Ruth Rimmer (Kenny Lee's 3rd ex-wife-to-be), walking full-front naked down the hallway in a British hotel to fill the ice bucket - the shocked middle-aged couple who spot her are author Dan Jenkins and his wife, June, in a quick cameo appearance).
More of Jenkins' books that are must-reads: "The Money-Whipped, Steer-Job, Three-Jack Give-up Artist" ('nother golf book, with another - different - Texas golfer) and its follow-up, "Slim and None". Find these books and read 'em - do it - do it now! You'll be glad you did.
Advertised as a sexy comedy about pro-football players and their women, this Michael Ritchie film, based on the book by Dan Jenkins, instead takes aim at fads and other eccentricities of the 1970s, using the sports world as a backdrop. It wasn't the big commercial hit some were predicting, though it garnered good notices for Burt Reynolds, doing another of his amiable walk-throughs. Jill Clayburgh, just prior to her breakthrough in "An Unmarried Woman", plays the daughter of the football team's owner, and her rapport with Reynolds is surprisingly instantaneous. Kris Kristofferson, on the other hand, ends up playing straight man to her and pal Reynolds, and the third-wheel position subdues low-keyed Kristofferson even further (he evaporates). There are some funny potshots at the EST craze, with Bert Convy well-cast as a self-help guru, but the romantic comedy at the heart of the piece never quite takes off. Ritchie puts all his sting into the absurdities happening around the principals, a move which consequently leaves the finale seeming half-baked. ** from ****
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The majority of Michael Ritchie's early films focused on the
competitiveness and ruthlessness of a then contemporary United States.
Be it "Downhill Racer" (1969), "Bad News Bears" (1976), "Smile" (1975)
or "The Candidate" (1972), all his films during this period are
explicitly about competition, American institutions and individuals who
put their personal goals (and/or profits) before a team, community or
group (or vice versa).
One of Ritchie's weakest films, "Semi Tough" is a shapeless and abrasive satire which focuses on the world of American Foodball. Ritchie takes aim at obsessions with winning, self-help programmes, health fads and the vanity and vacuity of the self-obsessed. His overall target, though, is a more generalised form of "self-improvement". American capitalism itself hinges on a certain unquenchable, existential lack. The consumer is always unfulfilled, always in need of completion, an anxiety which capitalism incessantly creates desires to exploit. Failures to attain contentment are then transfered back to the subject, leading to guilt and an escalation of transfered desires; maybe the next hit will bring completion.
Elsewhere the film watches as children of the 1960s struggle in their search for meaning a decade after vague promises of liberation collapsed. What they latch onto is essentially a New Age cult which mixes narcissism and individualism with corporate maxims. Other Ritchie themes are brought up - the costs and violence of winning, exacted on both winners and losers etc - but it all feels forced, Ritchie trying too hard to be the next Altman. Tonally, the film struggles to juggle comedy, satire and drama.
"Semi Tough" is criticised for being smug and abrasive, but that's understandable, considering it's populated by smug, abrasive and self-obsessed characters. The film would begin Ritchie's slide into more mainstream, forgettable territory. Robert Altman's similarly themed "HEALTH" was released one year later.
5/10 - Worth one viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The world of professional football players (though not necessarily the sport itself) is given a ribbing in this loose adaptation of the popular book of the same name by Dan Jenkins. Reynolds and Kristofferson are players on a fictional Miami team who share an unorthodox relationship (not to mention living arrangement) with the team owner's daughter Clayburgh. It's a sort of platonic threesome, which is thrown off kilter when Clayburgh begins to fall for one of the men. The triangular love story plays out against the sometimes-bizarre backdrop of locker room shenanigans, commercial endorsements, road-trip sexual escapades and, most notably, the world of self-improvement guru Convy, based on a real-life entrepreneur named Werner Erhard, founder of the "est" program. Weighing in with his own thoughts on his daughter's lifestyle and the lifestyles of his players is her bigger-than-life father Preston, he himself deeply involved in various new age systems and treatments. The film starts out promisingly disarming and saucy, with some startling dialogue and some skin-baring locker room shots, followed by an amusing deodorant commercial shoot and some good work by Catlett as a sexually desperate groupie and Lenya as a no-nonsense physical therapist. Eventually, however, the film becomes mired in the not-too-involving aspects of the love story and the then-topical, now tiresome jabs at self-help. Reynolds has appeared in a lot of junk over the years, but is woefully underrated when it comes to his ability to convey subtle emotion through his charm on the screen. He adds immeasurably to this film with his skilled, more thoughtful than may be immediately visible, laid-back performance. He is saddled with a worse coiffure than usual, but rises above that to give a charming, sincere and mostly appealing performance. Kristofferson is less impressive by comparison, but still offers up sufficient appeal for the bulk of his screen time. Clayburgh, an actress who enjoyed several successes during the notably male-dominated 1970's cinema, is solid in all but two ways. Her Texas accent isn't particularly convincing and she seems at bit ill at ease with all the cursing her part requires. Otherwise, her typical offbeat warmth and amiability shine through rather nicely. Preston manages a few showy moments here and there, but isn't utilized as much as he could have been. Convy, in visibly heavy makeup for some reason, has a good handle on his role (and went to a similar seminar in real life in order to prepare.) Lenya has just the one scene and is well cast in her role. Masur is dependably shifty as the team's business manager. Catlett gets a rare chance to show an array of emotions in her role as a pudgy sexual doormat. Other familiar faces include "Magnum P.I.'s" Mosley as a teammate, Weathers as a player on an opposing team, Silver (of all people!) as a non-English-speaking kicker and Dennehy as the team lunkhead (whose first appearance has him running around with his behind showing, wearing a jockstrap on his head!) Game show host and broadcaster McKrell appears briefly as a smarmy publisher. The music of Gene Autry is heavily featured throughout. Oddly, for a film featuring the after hours exploits of a football team, there is almost no female nudity, just one brief, gratuitous topless scene during a mêlée in a church. This became a very short-lived TV series and doubtlessly inspired some of the plot lines on "1st & Ten" as well.
Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson team up to play a pair of amiable
pro-football players in Semi-Tough a good natured comedy about these
two and the owner'd daughter. Sounds like you should be waiting for
punchline and in a sense the whole film is one.
Jill Clayburgh is the owner's daughter, the owner being Robert Preston who is a flamboyant Texas millionaire and owner of the Dallas football team which for copyright reasons is never referred to as the Cowboys.
Having grown up with the team Clayburgh is on a first name basis with all the players and they treat her with due deference. She'd like a little more going with either Reynolds or Kristofferson, but can't make her mind up which one. It's almost like Crosby/Hope/Lamour without any songs.
Some nice performances will be found from masseuse Lotte Lenya, fake motivational speaker Bert Convy, and also the best from Brian Dennehy as a defensive end who's really abusing the steroids. It's from Dennehy that we get some potentially serious moments in an easy going film.
Fans of the leads should appreciate Semi-Tough.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rascally Billy Clyde Puckett (a fine and engaging performance by Burt Reynolds) and laid-back Marvin "Shake" Tiller (a supremely amiable portrayal by Kris Kristofferson) are a couple of professional football players who are involved in an offbeat (and platonic!) menage a trois relationship with the sassy Barbara Jane Bookman (splendidly played with spunky aplomb by Jill Clayburgh). Complications ensue when Shake decides to marry Barbara Jane and Billy Clyde realizes he truly loves her. Director Michael Ritchie, adapting a sharp and biting script by Walter Bernstein and Ring Lardner, Jr., pokes wickedly spot-on fun at silly 70's self-help programs and the quintessential all-American emphasis on winning while showing a genuine warmth and affection for his three endearingly flaky main characters. Reynold, Kristofferson, and Clayburgh all do sterling work in their roles, with excellent support from Robert Preston as irascible, eccentric good ol' boy owner Big Ed Bookman, Bert Convy as smarmy, pretentious self-help guru Friedrich Bismark, Roger E. Mosley as the hip Puddin Patterson, Sr., Brian Dennehy as the rowdy T.J. Lambert, and Carl Weathers as fearsome rival team captain Dreamer Tatum. The dialogue is often snappy and profane; the banter between the three leads in particular is quite funny and delightful. Comic highlights include Shake doing a deodorant TV commercial, Billy Clyde visiting a brutal physical therapist (Lotte Lenya in an inspired cameo), a protracted forty-eight hour self-help seminar, and a climactic wedding which degenerates into a wild brawl. Charles Rosher, Jr.'s polished cinematography gives the film an attractive sunny look. Jerry Fielding's lively, tuneful score likewise does the trick. Gene Autry's country songs on the soundtrack further enhance the movie's considerable quirky charm. A nice film.
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