The Actors Chewdio was established in 1984 by founding members (and legendary thespians) Francois Van Varenberg, Charles Buchinsky, Michael Gardenzio, Kurt Vogel, and Thomas Mapother. Since its inception, The Actors Chewdio has been a shining beacon of quality within the acting community; producing exemplary performers at a level of talent and professionalism that all others aspire to reach. The organization is lead today by Chairman Hans Lundgren and it is with his gratuitous blessing that we bring you this procession of literary specimens aimed at enlightening lesser folk to the entire cinematic history of the craft’s innumerable transcendent masters…one film at a time!
The Film: All The Right Moves (1983)
Director: Michael Chapman
Writers: Pat Jordan, Michael Kane
Thespians: Tom Cruise, Craig T. Nelson, Lea Thompson, Chris Penn, Paul Carafotes, Charles Cioffi, Gary Graham, Sandy Faison, James A. Baffico, Mel Winkler, Terry O’Quinn, Walter Briggs, Dick Miller, etc.
Running Time: 91 minutes
Theatrical Performance: $17,233,166
This is the fourth and final film of Tom Cruise’s career that was released in 1983. It was also the last movie he shot while he was still a “nobody”, as Risky Business hadn’t hit theaters yet. It was also produced by Lucille Ball. How’s that for randomness? Before sitting down with All The Right Moves, I did my usual research to prepare this column. The information at hand suggested that, in addition to this being overall labeled as a “fluff” film among Tom’s body of work, it was also likely hindered by the fact that 1983 saw such a glut of The Cruiser. While those issues are quite possibly still true, I can no longer see them as the sole contributing factors to its “forgotten minor hit” status.
All The Right Moves would make for an extremely bleak film in any genre, let alone that of the teen drama. From the opening of the picture right up until almost the very end, the viewer is bludgeoned to a pulp with the absolute hopelessness that all involved are facing. There is a no way in hell that this film would ever be made today. It just wouldn’t happen and it definitely wouldn’t come from a studio. Tom Cruise plays Stefen “Stef” Djordjevic. While he has some attitude issues like any teenager, he’s a pretty good kid. He makes good grades and makes every effort to be the best football player he can be. Why? Because Stefen lives in a backwater Pennsylvania town whose lifeblood is pumped from the steel mill located within. His father and brother work there, as does the majority of the town. Stefen wants something more from himself and no one really seems to blame him. Neither his family, nor his friends, nor his girlfriend want to see Stef stuck working in the mill for the rest of his life.
Stefen wants to use his athletic skill as a mere springboard to get a scholarship to a nice college or university where he can study engineering and have a bright future. His best friends (Chris Penn, Paul Carafotes) also want out to pursue similar designs of escaping Ampipe, PA and Coach Nickerson (Craig T. Nelson) is hoping to bounce up to the big leagues and couch college football. On a more somber note, Stefen’s girlfriend Lisa (Lea Thompson) would love to move on and study music at a university, but has seemingly resigned herself to the fact that she will like end up a grocery clerk for the remainder of her years. The fact that a bright 17 year old girl has already given up on life is beyond depressing, but merely the tip of the iceberg with this film.
Brian (Penn) is granted a wonderful scholarship to play ball in California that he ultimately has to decline when his girlfriend discovers that she is pregnant. Brian decides to let go of his dreams of being a pro-baller and instead embraces his future as a family man. Vooch (Carafotes) is already on his last nerve at the film’s start and upon mucking up an important play in front of talent scouts that costs the team a big game, he spirals into despair and is eventually arrested for armed robbery. Stefen, in an effort to stand up for himself and Vooch after said game, gets himself kicked off the football for insubordination. Later that night he gets a bit sloshed and is picked up by a bunch of locals (including the douchey redneck principal). Before he realizes what is going on, he finds himself standing in the yard of the coach’s house as the townies vandalize the property. Naturally Stefen is spotted and this further puts him on the outs with the coach, despite the fact that he attempted to stop said vandalization. As if his removal from the football team wasn’t hard enough on his collegiate chances, Nickerson then begins blackballing Stefen’s attempts to get into any and every college with a decent engineering program. Meanwhile, Nickerson is lucky enough to actually snag the coaching position that he was vying for.
Depressed enough yet? Well, I’m not done. Stefen’s brother, along with countless others, is laid off from the steel mill and once Stef finally gives up on the bright future he had been aiming for, he gets a job alongside him helping demolish an old factory. The only thing that seems to keep Stefen from spiraling into suicidal territory is the fact that his family, friends, and Lisa never stop offering their love and support. They all live in a dying town that has long kissed its glory days behind it and they know it, but refuse to give up on one another. If there is any message of hope within the film it is that nothing is more important in life than your friends and family. It is because of this absolute loyalty that Stefen actually ends up having his dreams fulfilled at the film’s close. After appealing to the Nickersons’ conscience, Lisa manages to get Coach to go to bat for Stefen and get him a full ride to the college he will be coaching at. Not only will Stefen get to continue playing for a man he still admires deep down, but it is also going to be at one of the finest engineering schools in the country. It was a pitch black flick up until this part, so the happy ending was more than welcome.
As far as performances go, there isn’t really a weak link in the chain and the directing contains some cheeky transitions. Stefen removes his crucifix with care right before making love to Lisa for the first time and then we cut to Lisa singing in the choir at church in the next scene. You made me chuckle, Mr. Chapman. We also have some fun one scene roles from the likes of Dick Miller (as a grumpy school staff member) and Terry O’Quinn (as a college recruiter) and it was particularly fun to see James “Come on, Rebel!” Baffico as the sleazy redneck Principal Bosco. I would also be amiss if I failed to mention the awful and EXTREMELY ’80s theme song that the film is unfortunately saddled with. Yeesh.
What Sayeth Humanity?: While a commercial success at the time (likely due to Risky Business coming out two months prior), the critics found it to be cliche-ridden fluff. Today when the film is mentioned, it is usually in the context of Tom Cruise’s microsecond penis cameo (FYI, that was a body double). Beyond that, All The Right Moves is pretty soundly ignored or forgotten by most.
What Sayeth Daniel?: All The Right Moves is probably the bleakest teen drama I have seen in recent memory, but I enjoyed it. The film is a lesser entry among Cruise’s work for sure, but a worthwhile one if you ever get the chance to sit down with it. Just don’t go in expecting your usual “rah rah, home team! Everything is hunky-dory!” high school football flick. If you do, you’ll be in for a shock.
Next: Legend (1985)
INSIDE THE ACTORS CHEWDIO with Tom Cruise