Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) may be the best high school quarterback in the country but he has a difficult choice to make. He promised his girlfriend, Georgia (Uma Thurman), that he would go to the local state college with her but every other university in the country wants him. (Even legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell calls Johnny and advises him to go to an Ivy League college.) As Johnny tours universities across the country, he faces every temptation. By the time he makes his decision, will Johnny still be good?
The main problem with Johnny Be Good can be found in the first sentence of the above synopsis. Anthony Michael Hall plays the best high school quarterback in the country. By taking on the role of Johnny Walker, Hall was obviously attempting to prove that he was capable of more than just playing nerds for John Hughes. But Hall is never convincing as a quarterback, much less the best in the country. Though he bulked up for the role, it is impossible to imagine Hall in a huddle, coming up with the big play that wins the game. It’s easier to imagine Johnny getting shoved in a locker and left there until the school year ends. Hall seems to be lost in the role and the movie never seems to be sure who Johnny Walker is supposed to be. (Two years later, Hall would again play a jock and give a far better performance in Edward Scissorhands.)
As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey, Jr., who plays Johnny’s teammate and best friend, is even less convincing as a football player than Hall. In the 1980s, Downey could play a quirky sidekick in his sleep but not a wide receiver. Paul Gleason also shows up in the movie, basically playing the same role that he played in The Breakfast Club. Uma Thurman is sweet and pretty in her film debut but it’s a nothing role. Fans of Cannon Picture will want to keep an eye out for Steve James, in a small role as a coach.
Poorly written and slackly directed with few laughs, Johnny Be Good fails to take its own advice.