½*/**** Image C Sound C-
starring Tom Cruise, Craig T. Nelson, Lea Thompson, Charles Cioffi
screenplay by Michael Kane
directed by Michael Chapman
by Walter Chaw Seedy in that ineffable Eighties way, Michael Chapman's All the Right Moves is a star vehicle for a young Tom Cruise, following up his leading role in Risky Business with what is essentially a feature-length Steve Earle song about a downtrodden Pennsylvania steel town. Think Flashdance (released in the same year, strangely enough) with teenage boys instead of merely for them. Turmoil on a high-school football team (the Ampipe Bulldogs) functions as the microcosm for factory layoffs, teen pregnancy, and the existential angst embedded in the image of a horrible Lea Thompson playing a mournful saxophone on a street corner. Though there are a few moments of "was this ever cool" cheeseball nostalgia sprinkled here and again, All the Right Moves is teeth-clenchingly awful: half "The White Shadow", half somehow more embarrassing and dated than even that popular TV series.
Stef (Cruise) is a midget cornerback at Ampipe High who, for some reason, thinks he might get a scholarship to play football and blow this dying burg. His girl Lisa (Thompson) plays in the band and wears wool berets, and his best pal Brian (Chris Penn) ruins his future by knocking up his barely-registering girlfriend. Stef's future is jeopardized, however, when he gets kicked off the team for mouthing off to evil coach Nickerson (Craig T. Nelson, later television's "Coach") after a pivotal (and interminable) game against archrival Walnut Heights. To be frank, All the Right Moves is probably best remembered for brief full-frontal nudity from both Cruise and Thompson, each at that moment thankfully not butchering dialogue that almost couldn't be worse.
Aside from the expected misogyny of a film whose female contribution is essentially that of decorative ornament or dead mother martyr, All the Right Moves has an unhealthy obsession with how black athletes can dance a lot better than their white teammates. It's one thing to portray a less tolerant time in a less tolerant place, it's another to wallow with nary a hint of irony or self-awareness. Nelson's Coach Nickerson is Bobby Knight-abusive in a way that makes R. Lee Ermey's drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket look like a girl scout. Again, it's fine as far as it goes, but All the Right Moves plays it straight, the kind of artistic choice that results in camp classics and midnight cult revivals.
With an ending so unlikely in that forlorn uplift way that an insulin shot should be offered as part of the DVD's packaging (and a soundtrack that demands the gift of earplugs or lobotomy), All the Right Moves is one of those curious cultural relics that many vociferously defend because they liked it when they were eleven. It isn't even as though the picture were entirely innocuous: its casual insensitivity to women and minorities (two white kids get scholarships to college, no black kids even talk about the possibility) is unwise to excuse as a cultural artifact. I have a hard time believing that these lazy, feckless messages were any more acceptable twenty years ago than they are now, and I'm sure that production value, performance, and screenplay--even in the Eighties--were goals to which filmmakers aspired.
Fox DVD's release of All the Right Moves is probably as good as its negative print quality allows. There is a great deal of grain in the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, enough so that its darker scenes often appear as though they were shot in a dust storm. Contrast is off, colours are muted, and there are flaws and vertical scratches throughout. A Dolby Digital 5.1 remix is severely underutilized. There are no ambient effects or channel separation, even during the game and crowd sequences, rendering the entire product akin to a very clear mono track. The dialogue is sharp, however, and the soundtrack is lamentably crystal. Remastered trailers in English and (hilariously) Spanish, tracks in English and French mono, and the FoxFlix montage round out the sparse package. Originally published: April 12, 2002.