A Movie A Day #2: Blue Chips (1994, directed by William Friedkin)


blue_chips_movie_posterBlue Chips is a movie that will always make me think of England.

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 ConnectionThe Exorcistor 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.

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Shattered Politics #52: Blaze (dir by Ron Shelton)


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Oh those crazy Southern politicians!

As I’ve mentioned in a few other reviews, filmmakers have always loved to make movies about the crazy demagogues that we have historically tended to elect down here in the South.  Sometimes, those movies are serious and thought-provoking, like All The King’s Men.  And sometimes, like in Hold That Co-Ed, a film will attempt to play up the inherent humor in rabble rousing.  And then you’ve got films like Ada and Hurry Sundown, which are so melodramatic that those of us down South just have to shake our heads in amazement that people up North actually believe this stuff.

The 1989 film Blaze (which is currently making the rounds on cable) is a part of this cinematic tradition of films about flamboyant Southern politicians.  It’s part comedy and part melodrama and, perhaps not surprisingly, it takes place in 1950s Louisiana.

(Why isn’t that surprising? Listen, my family used to live in Louisiana.  I still visit Louisiana on a fairly regularly basis.  Louisiana is crazy.  That’s one reason why I love it.)

Blaze is based on the true story of Gov. Earl K. Long (played here by Paul Newman).  The younger brother of former Governor Huey P. Long (who himself served as the basis for the character of Willie Stark in All The King’s Men), Earl served as governor for three non-consecutive terms.  He was a flamboyant populist, in the style of his older brother, the type who campaigned as one of the “common” people and who was either extremely corrupt or extremely progressive, depending on which historian you happen to be reading.

In Blaze, Earl is nearing the end of his third term.  Because the state’s constitution does not allow a governor to succeed himself, Earl is currently campaigning for lieutenant governor, with the plan being that one of Earl’s allies will be elected governor and will then resign so that Earl can succeed him.  While this is traditionally the sort of thing that voters in Louisiana would love, Earl is struggling because some voters are angry over his support for the civil rights movement.

Earl is also struggling because he’s just met Blaze Starr (Lolita Davidovich), a much younger stripper from West Virginia.  For Earl, it’s love at first sight and soon, Blaze feels the same way.  Soon, she and Earl are going across the state together.  However, after Earl’s opponents arrange for him to be sent to a mental asylum, Blaze is forced to consider that she might be too big of a political liability to remain with the man she loves.

If that all sounds incredibly romanticized — well, it is.  After I watched Blaze, I did a little bit research on Earl and Blaze.  To say the film is fictionalized would be an understatement.  (Though, interestingly enough, Earl actually was sent to a mental asylum while serving as governor.)  But is that really a surprise?  Would audiences rather watch a movie about a corrupt, old racist who regularly cheated on his wife or would they rather watch a romanticized love story with hissable villains and moments of crowd-pleasing comedy?

As for the film itself, it’s okay.  It moves a bit too slowly for its own good and it’s never quite as enthralling as you might hope it would be, but both Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovich are well-cast and have a likable chemistry.  I related to the film’s version of Blaze Starr, mostly because we’re both redheads with big boobs who have a natural distrust of authority figures.  If you’re into Southern politics and you’re not obsessed with historical accuracy, you might enjoy Blaze.