Winners Take All
More Trivia from Winners Take All
Director: Fritz Kiersch
Writer: Christopher W. Knight, Tom Tatum, Ed Turner
Producers: David Axelrod, Christopher W. Knight, Tom Tatum
Absolutly one of the greatest uplifting sports films of the 1980's. If "Winners Take All" were a President, it would be on Mount Rushmore.
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There was a period in 1986 and 1987 in which we were treated to an influx of films about young people using extreme sports as a metaphor for conquering life itself. These were films in which we saw heroes beaten down and antagonized, only to be redeemed in the end through an extraordinary prowess in a given extreme discipline. Films where the extreme sport (karate, BMX bicycles, motocross, skateboarding) was a context through which a great story was told, instead of a flailing of eminently purchasable lifestyle products, like so many similarly "formulaic" sports films of the 90's.
They are the Extreme Training Sequence Films. They are No Retreat, No Surrender, Thrashin', Rad, and this film, "Winners Take All".
"Winners Take All" concerns one Rick Melon, a small town, small time Motocross racer who dreams of something better. Along with his childhood friends Wally (Peter DeLuise), and Goose (Courtney Gains), he races up and down Rattle Snake Canyon, near the mythical Paint Rock, tearing the trails to shreds, and periodically attempting the impossible. Suicide Hill towers above the brush, one thousand feet of near vertical trails, yet to be successfully climbed on a bike, by anyone.
Rick's got an old friend named Bad Billy Robinson who's left town and became a world famous pro racer. He and Rick have been friends since the sixth grade, and Rick has always been in Billy's shadow. He's also in Billy's ex-girlfriend, the airhead tramp Cindy. Billy rolls into town with his new friends, Team Hurricane and the team's slimy manager, Frank Bushing. Paul Hampton plays Frank dazzlingly and he drips the sweaty desperation of, well, most managers of anything.
Rick has a problem. Billy gets nostalgic, and starts humping his ex again - and Rick's current - girlfriend. Rick sees them together. Then he crashes at the Indian Head race after his throttle cable sticks, breaks his arm and trashes his bike. The world is pushing Rick around. Big mistake. Rick hooks up with Judy McCormick, a "lady racer" and starts his preparations for the Dallas Supercross, the LA Downhill/Helltrack of dirt bikes. "This track makes Death Valley look like a children's playground!" Rick will have his revenge, on the biggest stage in the world.
Rick learns to nail his reverse turns and jump long, instead of high, in order to clear the Supercross's indomitable obstacle, the three-bump "Himalayas". Judy and Rick are creating a lot of sparks, but it's hands-off, since Judy's dating some schlub named Carl, played by famous Motocross racer Broc Glover. I hope he's better at racing than he is at acting. Sheesh!
Don Michael Paul is incredibly believable in his role as Rick Melon and he carries the film well. Winners Take All is the only of the Extreme Training Sequence films to concern young adults, instead of teenagers. Though there is a long precedent for using actors in their early 20's to play teenagers in 80's films (Ralph Machio was 23 when he starred in Alvidsen's groundbreaking 1984 film, The Karate Kid), Winners Take All succeeds in creating a more realistic world by portraying it's main characters as differently conflicted, because of their age and their relative progress in life. Rick Melon is 24, not 17 and the fact that he still lives in the same small town, works at the same feed store, and drinks beer with the same friends, weighs heavily on him. It communicates and rationalizes his latent jealousy of Billy Robinson in a mature way, proving that it has justifiably smoldered these long years, between childhood and adulthood. This maturity is absent from the other films. I mean, No Retreat, No Surrender is about Bruce Lee's ghost, for crying out loud.
In Dallas, Rick nails his prelims and after some Team Hurricane shenanigans, places fourth in the semifinal, qualifying for the final. Rick will be racing Supercross, alongside Billy Robinson, upstart Johnny Rivera (Gerardo "Rico Suave" Mejia), and seventeen other top cyclists from across the country. At a party, Judy bashfully tells Rick, "I want to be with you." No, seriously, it's really touching. While Rick and Judy scurry under the covers, Johnny Rivera sets fire to Rick's bike. When Rick and Judy run outside half naked, the bikes explode. Goddammit!
Rick's friends rally around him, pooling their disparate parts in an effort to build a new bike, which leads to short "mechanical" montage. The bike looks tough and Supercross is on, but it doesn't end the way you'd expect. The race goes thermonuclear and we get crashed bikes, nose-punched managers and an Asian rider who demonstrates the effectiveness of Karate, with Wally, Goose, Judy, Billy, Johnny, Rick, and Act 3 sidekick Bear Nolan in the thick of it. I won't spoil the big finish, but the action moves to Rattlesnake Canyon, after all the racers are disqualified, and Rick tells Billy, "You want to finish this? Huh, champ? You know the place."
Of all the forgotten and overlooked films I've seen, I find it most tragic that Winners Take All has not received the V-Day laudation beset upon her contemporaries and so many other films of the genre which pale in both scope and execution. Winners Take All is Top Five. In the space of two hours, you will find excitement, adventure, and a redeeming meditation on a conflict that stains so many of our generation. How do we use the thing we love to advance our lives? How do we compromise our determination to shine with the responsibilities of adulthood? Rick Melon shows us how, by fusing his passion with his future, and using that synergistic combination to change the world. In the end, when Rick careens up Suicide Hill, reaming the trails like a cheap date, he is conquering the embodiment of his own treacherous and unresponsive life. By reaching the top, he is, to *himself* most of all, a hero.
It is that self-satisfaction which drives the world. Without the ambition to glorify one's self, *to* one's self, there would be no achievement of any kind. It is not selfish to exceed. It is when you admit that you wish to improve upon that which you currently are, that you step forward into a bright dawn, instead of sideways into eternal dusk. By the grace of God, we should all be so lucky, to live to see our vindication.
If it takes a corny 80's movie about dirt bikes to teach you that, then so be it. Instead of that next self-improvement tape, diet book, or support group, pick up a copy of Winners Take All. Steal a little of Rick Melon's life, and dream it into your own.
That's what art is for.
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