Varsity Blues

USA 1998

Reviewed by Mark Morris


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

West Canaan, Texas, the mid-90s. Jonathan Moxon is the reserve quarterback on the high school football team. The bookish Moxon, however, is on the margins of the team, preferring to spend time with his girlfriend Julie. Even so, he comes into conflict with Bud Kilmer, the coach who has bullied his teams into success for 30 years.

Kilmer forces blocker Billy Bob to keep playing after a severe concussion. Kilmer then blames him for the career-threatening injury to the team's star, Lance Harbor, even though Kilmer had been keeping Harbor on the field with injections of pain killers. Moxon proves a more than adequate replacement for Harbor and the team seems headed for the championship, although Kilmer resents Moxon's attempts to make the team play more imaginatively. After being briefly intoxicated by his success - and alienating Julie - Moxon is reminded of his responsibilities by Kilmer's treatment of African-American running back Wendell and the headache-prone Billy Boy. At half-time in the championship game, Moxon leads a rebellion that drives Kilmer out. The team pull off a dramatic victory.


Recent US films aimed at the teen market have traded heavily on being knowingly self-referential ever since the Kevin Williamson-scripted Scream. As Varsity Blues' star, James Van Der Beek, made his name in the Williamson-conceived television series Dawson's Creek, more of the same might be expected. Varsity Blues, however, plays it resolutely straight. Although momentarily tempted by egotism and a sexy cheerleader, Jonathan Moxon is a character with Gary Cooper-ish moral resolve. Most of the problems raised in the story are settled by the short, inspirational chats he gives the other characters: he builds up Billy Bob's sense of self-esteem and reassures Wendell that all whites are not racist. Coach Kilmer, memorably incarnated by Jon Voight, is by contrast a grotesque monster, whose position in the town is indicated by a Stalinist statue that towers over the football field.

But Kilmer is the film's only villain: the other characters are only occasionally misguided, too caught up in the desire to win - as Moxon says "You never question the sanctity of football." The reverence to the game displayed here runs throughout Varsity Blues: nowhere in the film is there either a truly incisive examination of the pressures of the US school sports system as in Hoop Dreams or the hedonistic rejection of it that occurs in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused.

Instead, director Brian Robbins and writer W. Peter Iliff have fashioned a liberal-conservative fantasy which suggests that there would be nothing wrong with the American South's bull-headedly macho culture as long as this system was (somehow) handed over to the literate, non-racist young. The film's confused values are demonstrated by the way the sensitive, chaste Moxon still leads his fellow players on a night of drunken debauchery at a local strip club.

Stylistically, Robbins - whose background lies in teen TV (he was a regular cast member of the US sitcom Head of the Class before directing Good Burger) - never deviates from the mainstream . Despite the involvement of MTV in the production, Varsity Blues is an old-fashioned film: even its more modern elements - some semi-nudity, a hard-rock soundtrack - could have come from any time in the last 30 years. The climatic scenes of the championship game and the team's spirited locker-room rebellion against Kilmer, for instance, are traditionally, almost blatantly, manipulative. Robbins' cast do well enough, although the immense popularity among teenagers of Van Der Beek (who has great trouble here with the Texan accent) remains a mystery. Voight's tyrannical Kilmer is a treat, but the only way to enjoy this film is to surrender to its well-orchestrated, swelling clichés.


Tova Laiter
Mike Tollin
Brian Robbins
W. Peter Iliff
Director of Photography
Charles Cohen
Ned Bastille
Production Designer
Jaymes Hinkle
Mark Isham
©Paramount Pictures Corporation
Production Companies
Paramount Pictures presents in association with MTV Films a Marquee Tollin/Robbins production in association with Tova Laiter Productions
Executive Producers
David Gale
Van Toffler
Herbert W. Gains
Associate Producer
Elysa Koplovitz
Production Co-ordinator
Lisa Swain
Production Liaison
Momita Sengupta
Unit Production Manager
Herbert W. Gains
Location Manager
Ken Lewin
Assistant Directors
George Fortmuller
Albert Shapiro
Vincent Palmo Jr
Franklyn M. Gottbetter
John Gordon
Script Supervisor
Pam Vasquez
Bob Krakower
Sarah Halley Finn
Dayna Polehanki
Barbara Brinkley
Toni Cobb
Barbara Harris
Aerial Director of Photography
Phil Pastuhov
Camera Operators
Joe Chess
Orly 'Sonny' Stires
Steadicam Operator
Joe Chess
Art Director
Keith Donnelly
Set Decorator
Tad Smalley
Costume Designer
Wendy Chuck
Costume Supervisor
Bill Edwards
Wardrobe Technical Adviser
Roric Ruegsegger
Supervising Make-up Artist
Catherine Conrad
Supervising Hairstylist
Bryan Hebert
Main Titles Design
Dan Perri
Pacific Title/Mirage
Music Conductor/ Orchestrations
Ken Kugler
Music Supervisor
G. Marq Roswell
Co-music Supervisor
Gary Calamar
Music Co-ordinator
Thomas Golubic
Music Editor
Helena Lea
Music Recordist/Mixer
Stephen Krause
"Walkin' the Line" by Wynn Varble, Shawn Camp, Randy Hardison, performed by Shawn Camp; "My Girlfriend Is a Waitress" by Rodney Gilbert Hodges, Joe Cabral, performed by the Iguanas; "Big Country" by Jerome Moross, performed by The City of Prague Philharmonic; "Nice Guys Finish Last" by Billie Joe Armstrong, Frank Wright, Michael Pritchard, performed by Green Day; "The Aggie War Hymn" by J.V. 'Pinky' Wilson; "Dolphin Fight Song" by Jed Leiber; "Problems" by Jaime Marroquin, Lawrence Cevallos, Carlos Hernandez, performed by the Flamin' Hellcats; "Unnoticed" by Mark Kano with Anthenaeum, performed by Anthenaeum; "Love-a-rama" by Leon O. Bass, performed by Southern Culture on the Skids; "Texas Flood" by Larry Davis, Joseph Scott, performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan; "One Foot in Front of the Other" by Lee Roy Parnell, Cris Moore, performed by Lee Roy Parnell; "Disappear" by Christopher Ward, Saffron Henderson, Oliver Leiber, performed by Saffron Henderson; "Are You Ready for the Fallout" by Tony Scalzo, performed by Fastball; "Wayward Wind" by Stan Lebowsky, Herb Newman, performed by Tex Ritter; "Pride of San Jacinto" by James Wallace, performed by The Reverend Horton Heat; "Run" by Ed Roland, performed by Collective Soul; "You Blew Me Off" by/performed by Bobby Bare Jr; "Valley of the Pharaohs" by Jerry Donahue, performed by the Hellecasters; "Lonesome Ain't the Word" by Wynn Varble, Randy Hardison, performed by Shawn Camp; "Same Old Feeling Feeling" by Doodle Owens, Russ Roberts, Christie Freel Speer, performed by Tim Buppert; "If Your Girl Only Knew" by Tim Mosley, Missy Elliott, performed by Aaliyah; "Boom Boom Boom" by Robert Gilbert Hodges, performed by the Iguanas; "Horror Show" by Kevin Cadogan, Stephen Jenkins, performed by Third Eye Blind; "Hot for the Teacher" by Edward Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, Michael Anthony, David Lee Roth, performed by Van Halen; "Voices Inside My Head" by Amber Villanueva Smith, Derrick Trotman, performed by Amber Sunshower; "Thunderstruck" by Angus Young, Malcolm Young, performed by AC/DC; "My Hero" by Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, performed by Foo Fighters; "Every Little Thing Counts" by Graham Butt, Andrew Pinching, performed by Janus Stark; "Nitro (Youth Energy)" by/performed by Offspring; "Fly" by Bob Feddersen, John Sullivan, performed by Loudmouth
Sound Mixer
Jennifer Murphy
Re-recording Mixers
Steve Pederson
Frank Montaño
Tom Perry
Supervising Sound Editor
Beth Sterner
Supervising Dialogue Editor
David Williams
Dialogue Editor
Susan Kurtz
Sound Effects Editors
Noah Blough
David Stone
Ron Eng
Bob Baron
Supervising Editor:
Mary Andrews
Zack Davis
Sarah Monat
Robin Harlan
Randy K. Singer
Supervising Editor:
Thomas Small
Tammy Fearing
Christopher Flick
Scott Curtis
Aerial Co-ordinator
Cliff Fleming
Stunt Co-ordinator
Russell Towery
Football Co-ordinator
Mark Ellis
James Van Der Beek
Jonathan 'Mox' Moxon
Jon Voight
Coach Bud Kilmer
Paul Walker
Lance Harbor
Ron Lester
Billy Bob
Scott Caan
Amy Smart
Julie Harbor
Thomas F. Duffy
Sam Moxon
Ali Larter
Joe Pichler
Kyle Moxon
Eliel Swinton
Richard Lineback
Joe Harbor
Tiffany C. Love
Collette Harbor
Jill Parker Jones
Mo Moxon
Mark Walters
Chet McNurry
Brady Coleman
Sheriff Bigelow
James Harrell
Tonie Perensky
Miss Davis
Jesse Plemmons
Tommy Harbor
Sam Pleasant
Tim Crowley
Coach Bates
Joe Stevens
young deputy 1
Don Cass
young deputy 2
James Michael O'Brien
Robert Ellis
Robert S. Lott
middle-aged fan
Barry Switzer
Bronco coach
Mona Lee
Old Miss Logan
Kevin Reid
Eric Jungmann
Laura Olsen
Ryan Allen
teen babes
Bristi Havins
cute naked girl
John Hyrns
bald guy
Rome Azzaro
young father
Marco Perella
Doctor Benton
Doyle Carter
Tony Frank
Sue Rock
Olin Buchanan
David Williams
Coyote player
John Gatins
smiling man
United International Pictures (UK) Ltd
9,428 feet
104 minutes 46 seconds
Dolby stereo/DTS sound
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011