adidas, amc pacer, anthony michael hall, back to school, breakfast club, bret easton ellis, chaplin, chariots of fire, deborah may, disney, edward scissorhands, george hall, gigli, janusz kaminski, jim mcmahon, john hughes, john travolta, johnny be good, jr., less than zero, molly ringwald, mr. vernon, paul gleason, paul newman, pete rozelle, pickup artist, robert downey, robert downey sr., robert yeoman, roger ebert, rotten tomatoes, saturday night live, six pack, sixteen candles, slap shot, song of the south, tarantino, ted, the godfather, tim burton, trading places, uma thurman, vanilla ice, weird science, wes anderson
Roger Ebert (may he rest in peace) said this about Johnny Be Good: ” ‘Johnny Be Good‘ is completely bereft of comic imagination” and “There is no possible motivation for [the final] scene, except for the obvious one – artistic bankruptcy” as well as “The screenplay for this movie bears every sign of being a first draft – a quick and dirty one. The movie doesn’t feel written, it feels dictated.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, eh? It currently sits at 0% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. To put in perspective what that means, Gigli sits at 7% fresh. So this film is widely recognized as a shit sandwich by pretty much everyone. Well, except me, I guess. I’ll agree to disagree with Mr. Ebert on this one.
The premise of this film is pretty simple – Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) is the best high school quarterback in the country. Every school is licking their chops at his talent and wants him at their school and they will do anything to get him. Johnny is a kid who comes from a humble home. His father has passed away and he lives with his mother (Deborah May), his grandfather (George Hall) and his brother and sister. So when colleges are offering big money for him to attend, he is listening, much to the chagrin of the family and his beautiful girlfriend Georgia (Uma Thurman, smoking hot in her first film role). Johnny considers himself a package deal with his best friend Leo (Robert Downey, Jr.), so both are getting propositioned from all sides, including overtures made by their high school coach Wayne Hisler (Paul Gleason, also Mr. Vernon from The Breakfast Club). Johnny’s recruitment circus is being followed closely by an NCAA recruitment investigator (Robert Downey Sr.), and shit blows up like The Godfather as it’s clear that violations abound in certain schools’ pursuit of him.
Here are four reasons that this film is still worthy of a watch:
4) Paul Gleason as Coach Hisler and his clothes
Paul Gleason is amazing in this. Not only does he build off his asshole performances in Trading Places and The Breakfast Club, he brings some kitsch to this one. As the clueless head coach of Johnny’s team, Hisler is married to Connie, played by Jennifer Tilly, a woman who throws Tupperware parties. Still. I know this was made in 1988, but didn’t that shit go out of style in 1972? Clad in some of the sweetest gear this side of Paul Newman‘s wardrobe in Slap Shot, Hisler really spells C-L-A-S-S. The shirt pictured above is really the tip of the iceberg. Screenshots were pretty scarce, but you should watch this film alone to see his yellow suit. It is unreal.
For all of his attempts at being sneaky, Hisler really just comes off looking like a dumbass. But don’t let that fool you as he’s still one of the best characters in the film. His lack of social awareness (he drives a Pacer for God’s sake) is actually kind of endearing. Obviously he’s a better football coach than he is a schemer or being a social animal.
Here is the speech he gives just before the state championship football game:
3) Jim McMahon‘s cameo
If you lived in the 80s and you don’t know who Jim McMahon is you might have been living under a rock…or just aren’t a sports fan. “The Punky QB” played for probably the best pro football team ever assembled, the 1985 Chicago Bears. He was known for his outrageous behavior and for being trouble for then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Was he the best quarterback? No. But he had more personality than all of them. That he’s doing an Adidas commercial is comical because he was fined for wearing an Adidas headband which was against league rules. Suck on that, Rozelle.
You can watch his cameo here.
2) Anthony Michael Hall is all growns up
From the time I saw him in Six Pack, shaking the dew off his lilly, to watching him in Johnny Be Good, Anthony Michael Hall completed a perfect transition from nerd extraordinaire or “King of the Dipshits” as his character Ted exclaims in Sixteen Candles, to the guys who dates the hottest girl in school and someone who everyone wants a piece of. His comedic timing evolved over the films he did with John Hughes (RIP) and works well in this film. Perhaps his stint on Saturday Night Live in 1985-1986 helped with this, although I recall those episodes to be below average. All the same, it’s nice to see AMH pick up where his character, Gary Wallace, left off in Weird Science. This was his last “big” leading role in film – he did play the villain in Tim Burton‘s Edward Scissorhands in 1990. A fitting way for a young talent to go out? I’d say no, but I think it provides ample humor despite the film’s serious shortcomings. I have always hoped he would have a big comeback. Perhaps Tarantino can write him into something. I mean, he helped out John Travolta‘s one-note ass. Why not AMH?
1) Robert Downey, Jr. is off his ass funny
As bad/good as this movie is, one thing is certain: Robert Downey Jr. had obvious talent. He steals the show as Leo Wiggins, Johnny’s best friend and back-up quarterback. His crazy monologues/diatribes are quite funny and his facial expressions are so expressive, it’s no wonder he was chosen to play Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin. It’s not strange that he appears in this film as he co-starred with AMH in Weird Science, Saturday Night Live and showed his own range between these two and Johnny Be Good when he appeared in Back to School (a character similar to Leo Wiggins), alongside fellow AMH–brat packer Molly Ringwald in the Hughes-ian The Pickup Artist and showed his more dramatic side in the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis‘ debut novel Less Than Zero.
The funniest part besides when RDJ tries to “smell it” at the beginning in Coach Hisler’s speech, is the stories he tells the girls they pick up at Murf’s Better Burger:
All in all the production of this film is pretty sorry. It may have the worst sound production of any film I’ve seen in some time. The amount of ADR (additional dialogue recording) is so obvious, it hurts. Seems like half of the dialogue was redubbed. One astonishing thing about this film is that Robert Yeoman, the director of photography for all of Wes Anderson‘s films, shot this film as well, much like two-time Oscar-winner Janusz Kaminski shot Vanilla Ice‘s Cool As Ice.
This, like many of the movies of the time, are time capsules of the period in which they were shot. Looking back, it’s probably best that some stay that way. The events that occur in this film are so over-the-top and unbelievable, it’s hard to argue where Roger Ebert was coming from. Still, I find this film fun to watch and laugh at. One of the best parts about this film to me is that I saw this in theater with my grandma. The only other films I remember seeing with her in the theater: Disney’s Song of the South and Chariots of Fire. Quite an eclectic set of movies, no? A cultured woman, for sure.
Anyhither, give this one a spin if you want to see Anthony Michael Hall right before he fell into oblivion.
Here’s the trailer:
Here is the entire movie, should you feel frisky: