While watching Jesus Shuttlesworth play the Clippers last night, and thinking about his movie career, it dawned on me that one hoops movie I always enjoyed I havenâ€™t seen in a very long time:
For those yet to catch this melodrama (itâ€™s a preachy film) the plot is pretty simple: Nick Nolte is a college hoops coach who is loosing too many games so he starts to do what â€œall the other schools are doingâ€ and paying players under the table. Those players are Shaquille O’Neal and “Penny” Hardaway, back when they were young and athletic. The list of cameos in the film is impressive: Bobby Knight, Jerry Tarkanian, Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, Marcus Johnson, Dick Vitale, Bobby Hurley, Jim Boeheim, Louis Gossett, Jr. and a bunch of others.
It got indifferent shrugs from critics but it worked on a few levels for me â€” not the least of those being unintentional comedy. In one scene it is Tarkanian most concerned with a recruitâ€™s grades and ability to do well in college. Then thereâ€™s the athletes turned actors. Weâ€™ve seen Shaq â€œactâ€ and Penny may actually be worse. In fact, all the athletes were just painful-in-a-funny-way to watch on screen, hitting their marks and saying their lines with all the grace of a porn actor waiting to get to the action.
But Nolte was pretty good, and I remember being surprised that Cousy (as the schools AD) was good, plus he can act and sink free throws at the same time. The basketball scenes were really good (as I recall), with Shaq coming off as the unstoppable force (this is back in 1994, when he was an unstoppable force). There just werenâ€™t many of them.
I remember Blue Chips as a classic case of a film that was over-hyped and never lived up to expectations. Iâ€™d forgotten (until I looked at the IMDB page today) that the writer was Ron Shelton (Bull Durham and White Men Canâ€™t Jump) and the director was William Friedkin (he Exorcist and The French Connection). There were great basketball players all over the court. It could/should have been an â€œAâ€ but instead it was a â€œB,â€ and because of that felt like a â€œC.â€
All that said this movie wasnâ€™t bad. Nolte throws some classic frustrated-coach tantrums in the locker room. The message about money in college sports is accurate, even if this film wields it like a sledgehammer.
And for all the cheesiness I kind of miss it. I guess it goes on the NetFlix list.