The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum

TUFF TURF (1985) ****

James Spader proved that he could play something other than an evil yuppie or a sexual deviant in this entertaining 80’s coming of age/musical/gang warfare flick.  He plays Morgan Hiller, a new kid in school who falls head over heels for Frankie (Kim Richards from Assault on Precinct 13), a punkish girl with immaculately crimped hair who happens to be the main squeeze of the local high school tough guy.  Morgan befriends the dorky Jimmy (Robert Downey, Jr.) who also drums for the Jim Carroll Band, who warns him to stay away from Frankie if he values his life.  Morgan sets out to woo Frankie by any means necessary, and doesn’t even get discouraged after the head creep totals his bike, mashes his face in, or beats him in the locker room with wet towels.  But he goes too far when he shoots Morgan’s dad and kidnaps Frankie and that ruffles Morgan’s perfectly coiffed hair.  This leads to the big showdown at the warehouse where Morgan takes on his gang singlehandedly before the final mano y mano battle. 


If you love 80’s cheese then Tuff Turf is a heavenly hunk of Gouda. 


It’s a musical, but not in the traditional sense.  (There’s only one scene where Spader belts out the love ballad “We Walk the Night”, and believe me that’s plenty.)  It’s a musical in the sense that Footloose is a musical.  Music is everywhere in the movie, whether it’s Jim Carroll belting out some searing punk beats or Jack Mack and the Heart Attack rolling out some Fabulous Thunderbirds-esque type tunes.  The songs don’t exactly advance the plot, but people get actively involved in the music, which is enough for me to label it as such. 


Consider the scene where Morgan and Frankie are dancing.  Even though she does everything she can to get away from him, she still keeps up with him every step of the way during the dance number.  She clearly doesn’t want anything to do with him, but the over-ambitious extras keep throwing her back into his arms.  You don’t see behavior like this in real life.  People act, dance and dress like that only if they are in a musical or are part of a Bob Fosse wet dream.     


Spader is aces (no pun intended) as Morgan and carries the film with his considerable laconic charm.  The scene where Spader crashes a country club and plays a song on the piano is priceless as is the scene where he foils a mugging with a can of Budweiser (!?!) while riding a bike.  Downey steals the few scenes that he’s in and he and Spader would later shine in another 80’s classic Less Than Zero.  Richards is good as the love interest but her hair deserved equal billing.  Seriously, how long did it take to crimp that mane?  Seeing Carroll play himself is also a treat.  (Leonardo DiCaprio played him in The Basketball Diaries.)  He looks kinda like an emaciated David Bowie and gets to perform two songs.  Even better, we get to hear his immortal classic “The People Who Died” on the soundtrack.   


Even though the flick runs 112 minutes, director Fritz (Children of the Corn) Kiersch keeps the dated fashions, the buzzing tunes and the high energy moving along fast enough for you not to notice that this thing was probably about 20 minutes longer than it really needed to be.  Any die hard Spader fan needs this one in their collection, pronto.  Despite his unending coolness, he doesn’t get to spout much memorable dialogue.  That department belongs to Matt Clark, who plays his father, who gives one of the greatest father/son talks the silver screen has ever seen when he offers his son this nugget of wisdom:  “Life is not a puzzle to be solved, it’s a mystery to be lived!”

Tags: drama, musical, t


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