Friday, 8 April 2011

The Best of Times (1986) deride The Best of Times as simply being to Wall Street what Slap Shot was to The Deer Hunter is to miss the point entirely...

The Best of Times (1986, Roger Spottiswoode)

Starring: Robin Williams, Kurt Russell, Pamela Reed, Jack Palance's daughter, Donald Moffat, ‘Iron Jaws’ Wilson, Eloy P. Casados.

Box Notables: ‘Crown Video, Walsall – No.1 For Video Leasing’ sticker.

Tagline: ‘A film with a catch (or two)’

Trailers: Beer Academy, A Catered Affair, Neap Tide

Cherrypick: Beirut?! What do you know about Beirut?!?”
                     “Beirut…… he de best damn baseball player ever lived!”

An oft-repeated production mantra of the ERH dynasty insisted that the recipe for acrid, black glucose scrapings and that of pan-fried candyfloss was one and the same. And whilst this sidelong aphorism might initially appear to be a judicious meditation on the ultimately ineffable mysteries of - to borrow John Boorman’s handsome phrase - turning money into light, it is, upon only a moment’s reflection, a carefree admission that the cock-heeled assclowns of the Incoherent Empire didn’t have a blind cobbler’s clue as to what they were doing.
Striving, on a good day, to achieve a delicate balance between stupidity and bombast (plus T&A), perhaps the real surprise should be that anything even vaguely enjoyable slipped through their nets at all; but fortunately the bent-to-breaking law of averages just about managed to sporadically ensure that for every thousand or so Dead Poet’s Societys there was at least one Class of Nuke ‘Em High; a Thunderdome to every hundred Road Houses. And for every fifty times Robin Williams visited the crapulent woe-fiesta of Club Paradise or Kurt Russell Tangoed and/or Cashed, there was - luck be a lady! - a Best of Times.
The B-Team
A post-Mork, pre-Aladdin Williams plays browbeaten Unabomber template Jack Dundee, the man who, years before, dropped a last minute touchdown pass that cost the small Californian oil burg of Taft (nee Moron, nee Siding Number Two) a college football game against arch-rivals and swaggering barrelhead arrivistes Bakersfield. A stigmatic symbol of Taft’s declining fortunes, neither Jack nor the town have ever allowed him to step out of the shadow of that ball. Long since consigned to pick his way toward an ignoble death, he now finds forlorn, hand-to-mouth solace in the contrabassoon, prostitution and endlessly rewatching the flickery, scratched Zapruder-lite film of the night he fumbled himself onto the sodden ten-yard line of infamy.

Russell essays Reno Hightower, the Dexter St. Jock of the piece – all teeth and wounded pride. Now eking out a living as Kern County’s premier pointillist van customizer, Reno was the crash-hot quarterback who threw that spinning javelin of hope through the sentimentally misremembered, pot-tinged night only to see it slip through Jack’s fingers, skid through the mud and bounce off a tree. His All-American aspirations followed much the same path. The blue-collar Banquo to Jack’s Lady Macbeth, Reno doesn’t quite share his old team-mate’s demented obsession, but when one day Jack reminds him how much primo tail they used to get back in their playing days, a replay of the big game is set up before you can say ‘Ineligible Receiver’. Cue ninety minutes of bizarre oilfield-bound training montages and top-notch redneck ribaldry (plus T&A).
Place your bets!
To deride, as did so many contemporary reviewers, The Best of Times as simply being to Wall Street what Slap Shot was to The Deer Hunter is to miss the point entirely. Whereas the Paul Newman vehicle was little more than a pithy ice-hockey parable laced with a few liberal trappings, Best of... is nothing less than a state-of-the-nation address delivered through the emancipating bars of gridiron and bathed in the Friday-night lights of small town expectation. It is a gladiatorial backdrop that ideally serves as a shoulder-padded iron maiden in which to fatally prick the antic doll of the Reagan administration’s voodoo economics and, in giving vent to these men’s frustration with their dead-end zone predicaments, evidences the cocksure supply-side economic theory of the time to be naught but an iceberg waiting for its Titanic.

Russell, particularly, outdoes himself on this score, sketching a far subtler pasquinade than the hillbilly rage with which he invested Overboard, or the Swiftian excesses of his Used Cars

When denim Dostoevsky Bruce Springsteen sang about going “down to the river”, he was almost certainly referring to the mighty river that flows through Taft (if, indeed, it has one), but with these men on the fourth down and thirty of life, and time-outs receding as fast as the fading taillights of America’s increasingly tangible Middle Classes, the fatalism that marked The Boss’s lengthy ‘Po’ folk don’t ‘speck much’ ballad is, temporarily at least, chucked-and-ducked by one last heaven bound Hail Mary.
Go long, Jack
With seconds remaining in the replayed game and the scores tighter than a popcorn fart, the mournful bleating of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’ swells the soundtrack. The ball is hiked, Jack momentarily eludes the Caucasian-crushing clutches of Dr. Death - that eternal linebacker who silently marks us all – and Reno unleashes the flaming sword of a pass that will rent the veil of the temple and deliver us from this pigskin Calvary once and for all.

The ball spirals into the inky night. The screen, overburdened with emotion and numbed by predictability, fades to black…

Go long, Jack. Go long...

Originally published in Little White Lies #7

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