All the Right Moves
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Remember Archie comic books; where the ever-so-slightly naïve, but always well meaning, Arch would get himself into trouble by being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Where every so often, Riverdale High's impoverished American football (or if you're American, just football) team would have to play against a bunch of arrogant, over privileged kids from the rich school across town...? Well, that's what 'All The Right Moves' is like.
It's Archie comics with an edge.
And whilst Tom Cruise couldn't get a socio-political ménage a trios going like Archie Andrews (think about it folks; the whole Betty and Veronica thing was destined for bigamy), he does have Lea Thomson.
But ladies are just one of his problems, in Michael Chapman's well-directed and highly watchable drama; the movie focuses around a volatile high school football player, determined to be the best.
Stef Djordjevic (Cruise) comes from a working class background and attends Ampipe (American pipe and steel) High, which has predominantly Black, Irish and Italian students. Stef knows that generation after generation (including his dad and brother) have gone on to the steel works, but the economy's in bad shape with unemployment on the rise; and when Stef's brother (a subtle but convincing Graham) is laid off, he realises that there's no future for him in Ampipe.
Stef longs to escape his hometown and harbours dreams of becoming an engineer, but the only way for him do it is via a football scholarship... and that's not gonna be easy, especially when he has to be contented with the dedicated but dictatorial Coach Nickerson (excellently played by Nelson) whilst looking out for his best mates Salvucci and Brian (Chris Penn, who always seemed to get impromptu dancing lessons in the 80s)...
Director Mike Chapman, who was cinematographer on Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" has a real eye for shooting action, and makes good use of slow motion and POV (as he did in the fight scenes for Raging Bull) during Ampipe's brutal grudge match against the rich WASPS at Walnut High. However, he's also quite good at handling human drama and developing his characters within a believable context. For if he hadn't emphasised the desperate economic climate, the mob rule which pervades to reveal the darker side of small-town mentality (when some locals vandalise the coach Nickerson's home) and the extent to which these kid's futures depend upon how well they play sport, 'All The Right Moves' would've been a cliché waiting to happen as some of the dialogue (particularly the scenes with Tom and Lea) sounds like it's straight out of some daytime soap.
Coming in at a lean 90mins "All The Right Movies" is saved 10 times over, thanks to the aforementioned aspects, not to mention some great acting from Cruise and Nelson. There's a really good scene when Stef confronts Coach Nickerson and tells him that people's lives are all ticks on a page, before storming off (hands in pockets) in a manner not unlike De Niro's Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver" (Chapman had obviously been talking to Scorsese!).
Thankfully, Stef doesn't take to the streets in a sociopathic furore, for after all, anyone who knows Cruise movies, knows that the ending can't be anything other than happy. For the way in which things are wrapped up and tied in a bow, just in time for end credits, alludes to the TV movie format. This was Cruise's first role as leading man (after impressing critics with his performance in "The Outsiders") and Tom does some great 'holding back the tears lip quivering' which is straight out of the Michael Landon school of acting.
And just when Cruise's dreams look as if they've fallen by the wayside. 'All the Right Moves' becomes quasi Ken Loach in it's realistic depiction of the steel works and the way in which talent can so easily be squandered, in the absence of external opportunity and a lack of money. I wasn't expecting to like this movie, but it's sincere, well acted, and unlike some other teen movies of the decade, lends a modicum of reality to this otherwise tried, tested and tautologically tired genre.
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