Thursday, October 25, 2012

Slap Shot (1977)

Starring: Paul Newman, The Hanson Brothers, other people
Directer: George Roy Hill

You know all the sentimental sports movies out there? Where you have an underdog, either a single person or a team, and despite all the odds they mange to achieve their goals in a heartwarming fashion? Don't you get sick of those?! Well, yes, but keep in mind that the alternative might not please you either....

This cult classic film has gained a lot of popularity over the years and is considered by a number of people to be one of the best sports movies of all time, or at least one of the best hockey movies of all time (Wait, aside from "The Mighty Ducks" and "Miracle," what other hockey movies are out there?!). Look, I am not much of a sports guy, much less a hockey guy, but I do know movies. And in terms of entertainment value...I'm sorry, but this film falls flat on the ice!

The movie is about a lackluster minor league hockey team called the Charlestown Chiefs, located in  the rundown town of Charlestown. When the local mill closes and the team appears to be on the verge of folding, its aging player/coach, played by Paul Newman, comes up with a strategy to keep interest in the sport having the players beat the living daylights out of everyone and everything they come across!!!

So where does all go wrong? Let me start by stating something that I did not think I would ever write on this site, or anywhere else for that matter: Paul Newman is TERRIBLE in this movie! For someone who started in pictures as diverse as "Hud," "Cool Hand Luke" and "The Road to Perdition," (not to mention the fact that he is being guided by George Roy Hill, who previously directed him in "Butch Casidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting") you would think he would give at least a halfway decent performance. Nope...! 

First of all, while Newman appears to be in pretty good shape for his age, he looks way too old to still be a hockey player. I know that is one of the points of the movie, but I have a really hard time believing that someone with a full head of grey hair can be playing a sport in which he is in constant danger of falling on the ice and breaking a hip.

But even off the rink he does not fit in. His character Reggie Dunlap is "one of the good ole boys" who is constantly joking around and hanging out with his fellow players. The thing is, he just comes off as being really awkward. He acts really immature and he sounds immature; he even dresses badly!

 Tell me that isn't a women's jacket!

And every time he swears (of which there is a lot of in this film) it just comes off as completely unnatural. Maybe I am a little biased because I have seen Newman in a lot of roles in which he is very smooth and charming. But...I don't know, its still kind of weird. Apparently, this was a role that Al Pacino really wanted, but he was rejected due to the fact that he couldn't skate. This is unfortunate because while I do not know if Pacino could have saved the movie, but I think he would have done a much better job, if only because he was younger and has a little bit more practice in the swearing department! I can only imagine what it was like when he got rejected:

"Hey George, I know you are still looking for a guy to be in that new hockey movie you are shooting. Would it be okay if I could to audition for the lead?

"Sorry, Al. You need to be able to skate in order to take on that role."


Most of the other characters do not do much for me either. They are mostly stereotypes of every one-dimensional characters that you see in other films: the young guy trying to work his way up in the world, the horny guy, the French guy, etc. In a way, all of them have the same persona. They are all angry, they hate the town they live in, and do not really have anything else going on for them. It just gets really unpleasant after a while. That being said, I would be remitted if I did not mention...these guys:

Yes, the infamous Hanson Brothers, the breakout stars of this film. Despite being very simple minded, to be polite about it, they are shown have one redeeming quality: being really good at beating up opponents and bystanders. While Newman is reluctant to put them in at first, he finds that they are a great fit for his new strategy: to attract a bigger audience by playing dirty at every game. While they are fan favorites, I really don't really care for them that much. They are just as stupid and obnoxious as everyone else in the film, they probably belong more in a 90s "Dude" comedy than in this one. I would talk more about them, but their really isn't that much to say about them.

Not that it really matter; this movie was meant for Newman, or at least his character, so most of the focus is on him anyway. He uses most of his screen time manipulating most of the other characters to do his bidding while also trying to reconnect with his ex-wife. At the same time, he starts to spread rumors about the team's eventual move to Florida. While there are ways of making this funny (think "Bowfinger") a lot of what he does just comes off as mean-spirited. For instance, he tries to enrage the do-good on his team by hitting on his disgruntled wife, going so far as to make her cry and briefly leave her boyfriend for him. You know, maybe if he spent about half as much time trying to be a coach and a role model to his players and not being a psychopath his team would not be losing so much to begin with!!!

*Warning: the next paragraph contains spoilers*

The movie ends with Newman finding out that the owner of the team plans to fold it no matter how well they do because she can use it as a tax write-off. Normally this is where your sympathy would be toward the "underdog" in the film. Except Newman kind of ruins it by storming off and calling her son a "fag." Her son is about ten. Way to keep it classy, Newman! Coming clean to his team, he tells them that he is retiring from the game and wants to go out in a respectable manner (I wonder if he would have done the same had been able secure a Florida deal...doubt it...). But the game turns into a fighting match anyway (as well as a strip tease...for some reason), and the Chiefs win the championship, though more by default than anything else. The team disbands and Newman finds a job as a coach elsewhere. He asks his ex-wife to join him and she says she'll think about it (she is not going to think about it). Not that he didn't deserve it, but that is a real bummer ending for the movie to go off on. But again, not that he didn't deserve it...

*Spoilers end here*

Look, the sentimental sports movie formula has been done to death, with some being better than others. But one of the reasons that they keep being produced is because people like to see films with characters they can root for. And on that front, this movie flops. Its characters are stupid and annoying at best and at their worse, they are just really of mean-spirited. The humor in this is similar to "Animal House," which came out a year later, but what that real classic got right (other than the fact that it was actually funny) was that, even though the characters were obnoxious, they were still fun to watch and you could relate to them to some extent. Same thing goes for "Major League," a baseball film in the same vein as this one which came out about a decade later and yet was a much superior film to this one for the same reasons. If your characters suck and you do not have any funny lines/situations to play off of them, it doesn't matter if you have Paul Newman as your star; it is still going to suck.

Well, that's that. I know this is a popular film among a lot of people and it has only grown over time (its spawned two sequels starring the Hanson Brothers). So if you are a hockey fan and you need something to do during the NHL lockout, by all means, go in see it. But in my opinion, it just doesn't work, so in general, I do not recommend it.

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