When I was a kid, I would spend every summer over in the UK. When I flew over for the summer of ’94, the in-flight movie was Blue Chips. I can still remember sitting in the back of the plane, trying to watch the movie on that tiny screen. At the time, I did not pay much attention to Blue Chips. It was about basketball, which was not something that I was interested in. It also starred Nick Nolte, who, over the years, starred in a lot of the movies that I saw while flying over the Atlantic Ocean. Try as I might, I could not understand a word that Nolte was saying. It was impossible to separate his gravely voice from the drone of the plane’s engines. I didn’t care much about Blue Chips.
Two months later, I was sitting in the back of my return flight when the flight attendant announced, “Our in-flight movie will be Blue Chips, starring Nick Nolte.” Still not caring about basketball and still unable to understand a word that Nick Nolte was saying, I sat through Blue Chips for a second time. What else was I going to do? Step outside and go for a walk?
Looking back, I can understand why Blue Chips would be shown on a plane. There’s nothing unconventional or controversial about Blue Chips. It’s not going to start any fights or leave anyone offended. Nick Nolte plays Pete Bell, a college basketball coach who, coming off of his first losing season, resorts to unethical measures to recruit three star players. Ricky Roe (Matt Nover) is a farmboy from Indiana and his racist father wants the college to buy him a new tractor. Penny Hardaway plays Butch McRae, whose mother (Alfre Woodard) wants a new house. Neon Bordeaux (Shaq!) doesn’t want anything but still gets a new Lexus. The corrupt head of the school’s booster club is named Happy and is played by J.T. Walsh. Other than Happy Gilmore, has there ever been anyone in a movie named Happy who hasn’t turned out to be bad news?
Blue Chips was directed by William Friedkin, though you’d never guess that this by the numbers movie was from the same director who did The French Connection, The Exorcist, or To Live And Die In L.A. In his autobiography, The Friedkin Connection, he devoted just a few words to Blue Chips, saying, “It’s hard to capture, in a sports film, the excitement of a real game, with its own unpredictable dramatic structure and suspense. I couldn’t overcome that.”
Friedkin’s right but I’m always happy whenever I come across Blue Chips on cable because it reminds me of that long-ago summer in England.
For tomorrow’s movie a day, it’s another sports-related film that always makes me think about Britain: Alan Clarke’s The Firm.