Tuff Turf

A guilty pleasure and one of my favorites from this period, Tuff Turf finds Morgan Hiller (James Spader), the youngest son in a family that has just been downgraded from a home in a posh area, transplanted into a public high school with some nasty 80's-looking gangbangers as alumni.

A rebel who had been kicked out of the exclusive prep schools he had been placed in before his father lost his job, he now has opportunity to walk the walk and talk the talk with the "real" kids.

Morgan comes to the new school with two skills: an adept proficiency on the ten-speed bicycle and dead-on aim with a dart gun.

The night before his first day at school, Morgan makes the mistake of foiling a scam being perpetuated by the legwarmer headband gang, robbing dirty old men at bus stops that are lured in by beautiful little-girl-lost Frankie Croyden (Kim Richards). He squirts the meanies in the face with spray paint as they are beating up an old man, darting by in the nick of time on his wimpy little ten speed.

This proves to be a big mistake, of course, as the gang sees him showing off on said ten speed the next day at school.

It's a toreador match, ten speed vs. Camaro, and of course ten speed loses. However, through a strange twist of fate, and a little help from Robert Downey, Jr., Morgan ends up with bad guy Nick's car while he is doing some time in jail. He uses it to lure Frankie, his newfound crush, who (wouldn't you just know it?) happens to be Nick's girlfriend.

The movie has a lot of plastic-fantastic improbables in it, but it is a really great ride just the same. Some live performances by The Jim Carroll Band and Jack Mack and the Heart Attack add the necessary cheese filling to this wonderful eighties cinematic blintz. "Oh-oh, Opposites Attract" chirps Lene Lovich as the movies capers on.

The truly memorable scene in this flick, love it or hate it, is when Spader appropriates a grand piano in an exclusive country club they have just sneaked into, and croons the power ballad of love to Frankie, "I Walk the Night." I get sniffly every time I see it.


Spader cements his typecasting as the consummate arrogant snot in this thing, but charismatic just the same. Kim Richards is really starting to blossom into quite a beautiful woman by this point in her career, however some of the aspects of this are dealt with a bit awkwardly, such as the obvious cuts to a stand-in during the love scenes

Robert Downey, Jr. is pretty much a throwaway in this, but he adds something just the same. Having worked with him recently, I am aware of what he can really do given the right vehicle.

The eighties cheesiness of this movie is what makes it as enjoyable as it is ridiculous. Many aspects of the plot are implausible, and the ending is thrilling but corny. IMHO, the standout music tracks are by Lene Lovitch and James Spader.

Notice any mistakes? Review

Strengths: Romantic & likeable. Good main characters, vintage eighties cheese and music mixed with action.

Weaknesses? Implausible plot. Awkward love scenes.

Our rating: 8.5 out of 10

Review Written by Michael Grubb:  Contact  |  More Reviews by Michael Grubb
Tuff Turf