Male Call: 2 Films For Macho Nerds

Posted: February 04, 1986

* "Youngblood." A drama starring Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze. Written and directed by Peter Markle from a screenplay by John Whitman and Markle. Photographed by Mark Irwin. Edited by Stephen E. Rivkin and Josh Hofstra. Music by William Orbit/Torchsong. Running time: 109 minutes. An MGM/U.A. release.

* "The Best of Times." A comedy-drama starring Robin Williams, Kurt Russell, Pamela Reed and Holly Palance. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode from a screenplay by Ron Shelton. Photographed by Charles F. Wheeler. Music by Arthur B. Rubinstein. Running time: 104 minutes. A Universal release.

Well, I certainly had my fill of machismo this weekend.

Sitting through Peter Markle's "Youngblood" and Roger Spottiswoode's ''The Best of Times" back to back, and witnessing their rampant male bonding, male egoism and muscle-flexing - well, it just made me want to go out and do something manly with another guy - you know, like crush beer cans in our hands or watch each other shave.

I can't decide which film has the worse macho message - "Youngblood," which conveys the idea that clobbering your opponent is essential to a good game of ice hockey, or "The Best of Times," which claims that an embarrassing athletic goof in one's youth means automatic entry into the world of nerds for life.

It's unfortunate that these respective themes are so wretched, because both films contain sporadic moments of charm, as well as some very good performances. I was particularly impressed with Rob Lowe's delineation of a sincere farm kid who wants to use hockey as his escape route in the title role of "Youngblood."

Critics - especially ugly, envious male critics - have been so preoccupied with picking apart Lowe's classic good looks that none of them has bothered to notice that he's a very good actor. (Richard Gere has the same problem with homely reviewers.) As Dean Youngblood (yet another character presumably modeled after James Dean), Lowe is naturalistic and modest, a regular guy who just wants to get through life the best he can.

As Dean has very few skills other than pitching hay and steering a tractor, he decides to pursue professional hockey. His father is against it, and so are half the players on the Hamilton Mustangs, the semi-pro Canadian team that takes on Dean. The guys on the team sneer at his chiseled features - just like the critics in the audience.

Dean is a terrific skater and good with a hockey stick as well. What he

hasn't mastered is the ability to use his fists while he's on ice. (Think about that; it's not as easy as it sounds.) He resists giving in to the brutal side of the sport until his best team buddy (Patrick Swayze) is nearly turned into a vegetable by the resident sadist on a rival team. Then, Dean fights back.

Padding out the rest of "Youngblood" are hale and hearty scenes of carousing young men that look as if they were lifted intact from a beer commercial.

If anyone's looks should be mocked, it should be Robin Williams'. In "The Best of Times," his squashed, ugly mug is treated to one loving close-up after another as he plays the role of Jack Dundee, a Capra-esque character who has lived in humiliation for the past 20 years because he fumbled a pass in a big high school football game. Jack, in fact, is held responsible by his neighbors for the sad decline of their town. If only Taft had beaten the neighboring Bakersfield in that game . . . everything would have been different. If only Jack wasn't such a wimp . . .

Jack's father-in-law, for whom the nerd works, is a Bakersfield supporter who has gotten a lot of comic mileage at Jack's expense during the past 20 years. What's never explained is why Jack remained in Taft if life is so miserable and hopeless for him there.

Anyway, thanks to a caring prostitute, who gives him the idea, Jack decides to restage the Big Game, somehow recruiting all of his old buddies. The remainder of the film plays like "The Bad News Bears" with a 5 o'clock shadow.

I found the scenes among the men almost unbearable to watch, but the moments between Jack and his wife (wonderful Holly Palance) and their best friends (Kurt Russell and Pamela Reed) are great - like a welcome sitcom rerun on an evening of Monday night football.

Parental guide: "Youngblood" is rated R for its language and scenes of violence and sex; "The Best of Times" carries a PG-13 for its mere hints at sexuality.

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