Varsity Blues (1999)

Directed by Brian Robbins

In small-town Texas, high school football is a religion, 17-year-old schoolboys carry the hopes of an entire community onto the gridiron every Friday night. When star quarterback Lance Harbor suffers an injury, the Coyotes are forced to regroup under the questionable leadership of John Moxon, a second-string quarterback with a slightly irreverent approach to the game.

Does this movie have the lamest half-time locker room pep talk of all time? Imagine if Henry V had a St. Crispin's speech this weak...

Anyway, this reactionary American Pie isn't all that much fun to watch, and it only becomes pleasurable when you can hear the opening of SRV's Texas Flood in the background of one scene. Varsity Blues is only interesting to the extent that it is not always clear to what degree, if any, it is endorsing or critiquing the toxic, insular and proudly provincial mindset of the town's culture. Their narrow horizons would be sad if they weren't so pathetic — particularly when evinced by the players' fathers, who are weirdly (and disturbingly) nostalgic for when they were young.

To be generous, I would say that the film starts to mount a critique in its third act, but it quickly deflates all of the criticism it builds up by dropping it entirely on the head of coach when it's quite clear that the problem with college football 'culture' writ large is much broader than that. And it's all very well saying that the film's subtext is actually "it's not about winning", when, spoiler alert, they win.

Anyway, it's highly symptomatic of the film is that it starts with highly clichéd conservative sloganeering: "America we have laws, laws against killing, laws against stealing. And it's just accepted that as a member of American society, you will live by those laws." Yawn. Dirty Harry (1971) was hardly subtle in its reactionary messaging, but it was far defter than this. Similarly, it's pretty indicative that the first shot we see of coach Kilmer could easily be of him mid-Hitler Salute. And, if you notice carefully, that the student's sex education starts and ends entirely with the male erection. Make an effort, come on.


Though 1999 has inspired countless essays and at least one full book extolling its virtues as 12 months of cinematic wonder, its first few months heralded a Delia’s-catalog revolution of synthetic teen movies, reviving John Hughes-style prepsploitation with a lacquered turn-of-the-century sheen.

Jesse Hassenger (Paste Magazine)


Varsity Blues is half-comedy, half-coming-of-age movie with another half or so of sports film and maybe another quarter of soundtrack that adds up to 175 percent of a bad movie.

Craig Marine (SFGate)