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Varsity Blues is a 1999 American coming-of-age sports comedy-drama film directed by Brian Robbins that follows a small-town high school football team through a tumultuous season, in which the players must deal with the pressures of adolescence and their football-obsessed community while having their overbearing coach constantly on their back. In the small fictional town of West Canaan, Texas, football is a way of life and losing is not an option.

The film drew a domestic box office gross of $52 million against its estimated $16 million budget despite mixed critical reviews.

Plot

Despite his relative popularity at school, easy friendships with other players, and smart and sassy girlfriend Jules Harbor (Amy Smart), Jonathan "Mox" Moxon (James Van Der Beek), an academically gifted backup quarterback for the West Canaan High School varsity football team, is dissatisfied with his life. Wanting to leave Texas for Brown University, he constantly clashes with his football-obsessed father Sam (Thomas F. Duffy), and dreads playing under legendary coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), a verbally abusive, controlling authority who believes in winning, however necessary, and has a strong track record, remarking in a speech, "In my thirty years of coaching at West Canaan, I have brought two state titles, and 22 district championships!"

His philosophy finally degrades the Coyotes' star quarterback Lance Harbor (Paul Walker), Mox's best friend and Jules' brother, who is manipulated into taking anesthetic shots into an injured knee that finally succumbs to failure and results in even greater injury during gameplay. At the hospital, the doctors, appalled at the massive amount of scar tissue found under his knee, explain that recovery would take at least a year and a half, costing Lance his football scholarship to Florida State.

Mox, who has accompanied Lance, is shocked when Kilmer denies Lance's knee problems, when in fact he ordered the trainer to use the anesthetics. Needing a new quarterback, Kilmer reluctantly names Mox to replace Lance as team captain and starting quarterback. The move brings unexpected dividends for him, one of them being Darcy Sears (Ali Larter), Lance's beautiful cheerleader girlfriend, who wants to marry someone leaving West Canaan in order to escape small-town life. She even attempts to seduce Mox, sporting a whipped cream "bikini" over her otherwise naked body, but he gently rebuffs her, telling Darcy that she can independently escape West Canaan.

Disgusted with Kilmer and not strongly needing to win, Mox starts calling his own plays on the field without Kilmer's approval. He also chides his father, screaming at him, "I don't want your life!" Sam had been a football player at West Canaan, and although Kilmer dismissed him for lacking talent and courage, Sam still respected and obeyed him. When Kilmer discovers that Mox has won a full scholarship to Brown, he warns Mox that continued disobedience and disrespect towards him will force him to alter his transcripts to reverse the decision on his scholarship.

Kilmer's disregard for players continues, resulting in Mox's friend, offensive lineman Billy Bob (Ron Lester), dramatically mentally collapsing. After Kilmer pressured him to play following a concussion in an earlier game, Billy Bob collapsed on the field, allowing the career-ending hit on Lance.

When star running back Wendell Brown (Eliel Swinton) is injured in the district title game, Kilmer persuades him to take a shot of cortisone to deaden the pain in his knee, allowing Wendell to continue at risk of more serious injury. Desperate to be recruited by a good college, Wendell almost consents when Mox tells Kilmer he will quit if the procedure continues. Undaunted, Kilmer orders wide receiver Charlie Tweeder (Scott Caan) to replace Mox, but Tweeder refuses. Mox tells Kilmer that the team will only return to the field without him.

An angered Kilmer physically assaults Mox, but the other players intercede and then refuse to take to the field. Knowing his outburst has cost him his credibility, Kilmer tries unsuccessfully to rally support and spark the team's spirit into trusting him, but none of the players follow him out of the locker room. Kilmer continues down the hall, then turns in the other direction and into his office. Using a five-receiver offense in the second half, the Coyotes proceed to win the game and the district championship without Kilmer's guidance, thanks largely to Lance calling the plays from the sideline, and Billy Bob scoring the game-winning touchdown on a hook-and-ladder play.

In a voice-over epilogue, Mox recounts several characters' aftermaths: Kilmer left town and never coached again, but his statue still remained due to its weight; after the game, Tweeder drank beer and Billy Bob cried in celebration; Lance became a successful coach, Wendell received a football scholarship to Grambling State University, and Mox went on to attend Brown on an academic scholarship.

Cast

  • James Van Der Beek as Jonathan "Mox" Moxon, an academically successful, yet rebellious backup quarterback.
  • Jon Voight as Coach Bud Kilmer, the Coyotes' tyrannical 30-year head coach.
  • Paul Walker as Lance Harbor, the original captain and starting quarterback of the Coyotes and Mox's best friend.
  • Amy Smart as Jules Harbor, Mox's girlfriend and Lance's younger sister.
  • Ron Lester as Billy Bob, an overweight but powerful offensive guard.
  • Scott Caan as Charlie Tweeder, a wild, cocky and hard-partying wide receiver.
  • Eliel Swinton as Wendell Brown, the star running back and one of only three African American players on the Coyotes.
  • Ali Larter as Darcy Sears, Lance's girlfriend and the captain of the cheerleading squad.
  • Richard Lineback as Joe Harbor, Lance and Jules' father.
  • Thomas F. Duffy as Sam Moxon, Mox's football-obsessed father.
  • Joe Pichler as Kyle Moxon, Mox's younger brother who is into religions rather than football.
  • Tonie Perensky as Miss Davis, a teacher at West Canaan High School who moonlights as a stripper at the local strip club The Landing Strip.

Reception and legacy

The film opened at #1 at the North American box office making $17.5 million USD in its opening weekend. Though it had a 39.6% decline in earnings, it was still enough to keep it at the top spot for another week.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 43% approval rating based on reviews from 56 critics, with an average rating of 5.2/10. The site's consensus states "This is a predictable football movie that lacks intensity." On Metacritic, it has a score of 50 out of 100 based on reviews from 20 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average rating of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.

Roger Ebert noted in his Chicago Sun-Times review that "Scenes work, but they don't pile up and build momentum." ReelViews online film critic James Berardinelli's summary was that although it "takes a worthwhile detour or two, it ultimately finds its way back to the well-worn track of its genre."

The film was later parodied in the 2001 film Not Another Teen Movie; Ron Lester reprised his role of Billy Bob by playing a nearly identical character named Reggie Ray while Ali Larter's whipped cream bikini was parodied. The film was also quoted in the 2004 film Mean Girls as being Regina George's favorite movie.

On January 21, 2002, Nelvana and MTV announced that they would co-produce a television series based on the film. Screenwriter Peter Iliff and producer Tova Leiter signed on to produce the series. The cast included Sean Dwyer as Stick and Charlie Talbert as Billy-Bob.

Soundtrack

Being a production of MTV Films, "Varsity Blues" was filled with a soundtrack of well known bands and little known songs. The soundtrack album was published by Hollywood Records and contained:

  • Two Faces - Days of the New
  • Walkin' The Line - by Shawn Camp
  • My Girlfriend is a Waitress - by The Iguanas
  • Nice Guys Finish Last - by Green Day
  • Problems - by the Flamin' Hellcats
  • Unnoticed - by Anathenaeum
  • Love-a-Rama - by Southern Culture on the Skids
  • Texas Flood - by Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • One Foot in Front of the Other - by Lee Roy Parnell
  • Disappear - by Saffron Henderson
  • Are You Ready for the Fallout - by Fastball
  • Wayward Wind - by Tex Ritter
  • Pride of San Jacinto - by The Reverend Horton Heat
  • Run - by Collective Soul
  • You Blew Me Off - by Bare, Jr.
  • Valley of the Pharaohs - by The Hellecasters
  • Lonesome Ain't the Word - by Shawn Camp
  • Same Old Feeling - by Tim Buppert
  • If Your Girl Only Knew - by Aaliyah
  • Boom Boom Boom - by The Iguanas
  • Horror Show - by Third Eye Blind
  • Hot for Teacher - by Van Halen
  • Thunderstruck - by AC/DC
  • Voices Inside My Head - by Amber Sunshower
  • My Hero by Foo Fighters
  • Every Little Thing Counts - by Janus Stark
  • Fly - by Loudmouth
  • Nitro (Youth Energy) - by Offspring
  • Teen Competition - by Redd Kross
  • Varsity Blue - by Caroline's Spine

Awards

1999 Teen Choice Awards
  • Choice Movie Breakout: James Van Der Beek (won)
  • Choice Drama Movie (nominated)
1999 MTV Movie Awards
  • Best Breakout Performance: James Van Der Beek (won)
  • Best Movie Song (nominated)
2000 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
  • Best Male Newcomer: James Van Der Beek (nominated)
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