*½/**** Image B Sound B Extras C
starring Jessica Lange, Dennis Quaid, Timothy Hutton, John Goodman
screenplay by Tom Rickman, based on the book by Frank Deford
directed by Taylor Hackford
THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON
**/**** Image C+ Sound C+
starring Bruce Dern, Stacy Keach, Robert Mitchum, Martin Sheen
written and directed by Jason Miller
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Taylor Hackford's Raging Bull, the episodic pigskin melodrama Everybody's All-American boasts a trio of fantastic performances at the service of a picture that's all sturm and no drang, a weightless thing packed to the rafters with heaving moments over the course of a twenty-five year span that somehow fail to add up to an affecting whole. It comes at the tail end of the prolific Dennis Quaid's most prolific era, rounding up unqualified successes like The Big Easy and Innerspace (and unqualified miscues like D.O.A.) and serving as a handy career summary for Hackford, who hit it big with the revered cheese classic An Officer and a Gentleman, which he's been dutifully remaking in one form or another ever since. Success is an unforgiving mistress--so is lack of range and imagination.
Everybody's All-American is a portrait of the dim and the beautiful, the pageant princess and the all-American sports hero, coasting on name and appearance and only discovering late in the game what it means to be fallible and ordinary. There's a crushing scene towards the end where Quaid's Gavin "Grey Ghost" Grey is standing on the field of his alma mater for the twenty-fifth reunion of his Sugar Bowl-winning Louisiana football team and mistakes a rousing cheer from the crowd for the home team to be a standing ovation for his fading legend. Were the movie to end on this delicate, uncompromising note, much that came before would be forgiven. Instead, it ends on a Hackford uplift: a proverbial Gere carrying a proverbial Winger into the schmaltz sunset of a bright contrivance. Jessica Lange is really quite amazing as Babs, the sorority girl lampooned in Animal House but with depth and an ironclad sense of honour. She keeps her dignity in a scene in which she strips down for a skinny dip with Gavin's cousin Cake (Timothy Hutton) and projects with quiet strength the dawn of sentience in a woman too beautiful to have bothered thinking before.
The film, in fact, is at its best when dealing with awakenings, but the idea of awakening and its attendant existential burden is only really explored through the tragedy of a murder (John Goodman's best buddy character, victim to his gambling debts) that cuts an evolution short. Allowed to play out, the myriad subplots that function in place of plot in Everybody's All-American resolve as shades of tidily uncontroversial. While not a surprise given Hackford's affection for bloated melodrama, it feels like more of a betrayal to the work turned in by Quaid and Lange--work that's easy to dismiss, given the candy cellophane of its packaging here, but that stands as among the best that either has ever done. (So fit is Quaid for the role of aging sports hero that he has visited it twice since (in Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday and John Lee Hancock's The Rookie).) Hutton's character is made a distraction for the most part by his function as catalyst and counterpoint for Babs's emotional growth (he's the egghead alternative to her philandering jock choice) and by his wardrobe and facial hair changes; in short, he's Jenny from Forrest Gump, the one genuinely involved force in the film, punished by a marriage to a brassy grad student (Patricia Clarkson)...and yet he's not the star. Everybody's All-American is beautiful and shallow. Apparently, it's also ironic.
The topic of old warhorses ritualistically revisiting their old stomping grounds to, at least for a moment, deny the passage of adolescent glory into mature obsolescence is ritualistically explored in the late Jason Miller's adaptation of his own Pulitzer prize-winning play, That Championship Season. Swimming harder against the inevitable tide of forgetfulness than the Grey Ghost is Bruce Dern's George Sitkowski, governor of troubled, racially divided Scranton, a man who, upon his re-election, discovers that no one really likes him. Gathering annually with teammates from a 1957 championship high school basketball team, George and pals Phil (Paul Sorvino), coach Delaney (Robert Mitchum), and brothers James (Stacey Keach) and Tom (Martin Sheen), carouse, get drunk, and start telling the truth. A long night begins to play in the dense proscenium cadence of 12 Angry Men.
A frustrated principal, bent over by the teachers' union, James has a speech early on: "I don't wanna be swallowed up in anonymity. I wanna do something important in my life because I feel I'm a talented man." It's an eloquent moment, and it comes just before the second act of the film, during which a cascade of ridicule and recrimination descends into revelations of adultery, betrayal, and racial invective, laying bare the core of unrest in the hearts of minds of hard-court heroes, once upon a time. The strengths and weaknesses of That Championship Season are remarkably similar to those of Everybody's All-American: uniformly great performances at the service of pieces that would probably work better in different mediums (the stage, the opera house), and indifferent ventriloquial narratives that engage in basic soothsaying less revelatory than "no kidding," each ending with a happy, varnished (embalmed?) glow. At the least there's wit in Miller's dialogue, in particular the subtle, vulture-like laying into the chums as their most jealously guarded secrets are laid bare in turn. It's hard to say that the picture is bad, just that it's dry as tinder without a spark to ignite it.
Warner DVD presents Everybody's All-American in a 1.85:1 anamorphic video transfer stained by the indelible burnish of the late-'80s that renders colours a little soft and atmosphere a touch on the murky side. It looks fine, though, with only intermittent moments of noticeable grain (mostly in the second-unit stuff) and inconsistent black level. The Dolby Surround soundmix is sharp and workmanlike--like the movie that it decorates, nothing remarkable, nothing jarring--while a feature-length commentary provided by Hackford and screenwriter Thomas Rickman is difficult to sit through, not for the fact of any dead spots (there aren't any), but for the way that Hackford likes to talk about how race was an issue in the Old South as though everyone else is an idiot.
It's likewise interesting to note that Hackford believes James Newton Howard's score for this film to be among the most beautiful music ever composed--a level of hyperbole that actually does more discredit to Howard and his output than bolster it. Hackford is dangerously close in the yakker to suggesting, as well, that this score is Howard's first when it's actually his thirteenth. (I swear that he's trying to take credit for discovering Howard, which, let's face it, is a little like taking too much pride in discovering mayonnaise.) Though Rickman chimes in now and again about the Frank Deford novel from which he adapted his screenplay, Hackford dominates the track, his hagiographies of his cast, and his self-regard ("...In all my movies, and I've done a lot of movies...").
Hackford and Rickman return for a fourteen-minute segment featuring seven deleted scenes that, like the rest of the film, are pointless, almost self-contained stories that do little to forward the narrative and only repeat what's already known about each of the characters and their relationships with one another. The final, longest deleted scene features a naked Quaid passed out on a bed post-tryst with a business partner that ends with a shooting, leading to the realization that for as overblown as much of the picture is, it could have gone a lot worse. The first of two "vintage" featurettes that prolong the agony is "A Football Story" (6 mins.), featuring some B-roll footage and on-set interviews with Quaid and Hackford revealing how the football scenes were recreated and how Quaid had his collarbone broken during one too-real tackle. (Strangely enough, the injury is described in the commentary as two broken ribs. A few more supplements and Quaid'll be fitted for a full-body cast.) The second mini-doc is a typical "Behind the Scenes" piece that is predictably self-congratulatory and without substantive information. Everybody's All-American's original theatrical trailer rounds out the surprisingly complete presentation.
MGM delivers less in its DVD release of That Championship Season, offering the picture in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen rendition that, although surprisingly sharp, is riddled with edge enhancement and, in the night shots, a good deal of grain. Still, the source print is clean, and the transfer's imperfections are, if distracting, not exactly apocalyptic. A Dolby 2.0 mono audio track reproduces dialogue with clarity but hardly a surplus of richness. In truth, the minimal, low-budget look and feel of the presentation is in keeping with the film's dour atmosphere. A nice, long theatrical trailer and an alternative pan-and-scan version are the only things on the disc resembling supplementary material. Originally published: May 17, 2004.