Youngblood (1986) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
guess any hockey movie is going to draw some comparisons with the
classic "Slap Shot", but the two films don't have much in
common except pucks. "Slap Shot" has more in common with
North Dallas Forty than with this movie.
The participants in any professional sporting activity have a variety of phases they go through, and the movies about sports reflect those phases. One phase, perhaps the most popular, is the "resigned to mediocrity phase," in which the player has shown all he can show, does his best, still loves to play, but now knows that he isn't going to be Wayne Gretzky, so resolves to do his best and have a good time. In this phase, he treasures the rowdy camaraderie, the occasional field triumph, the pain-free day, and the fun after the games. He thinks about his future after his playing days. Slap Shot was the hockey version of that story, North Dallas Forty was the football variation, and Bull Durham was the baseball equivalent. Consider the characters played by Newman, Nolte, and Costner in those three films - older guys who were never superstars, but just dependable professionals, who are now playing out their final days on the field, reconciling themselves to the loss of their youth, and wondering how they will live without the only thing they have ever done. Some of the greatest, if not the very best sports movies are about this phase.
Youngblood is not that kind of sports movie.
Another phase is the "awestruck phase" in which the young player wonders if he really belongs, doesn't relate easily to the world-weary and cynical edge of his teammates, and stands in awe when he first sees Yankee Stadium and the monuments in centerfield. Youngblood is that kind of movie. Rob Lowe plays the aspiring hockey great named Youngblood, and his character is a 17-year-old farm boy away from home alone for the first time. The opening credits are shown over a close up of a hockey player's skates in crepuscular light. The scene is bathed in a haze, as if somehow mythical rather than real. The music is suitable for dance. From the first scenes, Youngblood announces that it is going to be about the romance of the game, and its youthful idealization.
There is another way in which Youngblood is quite different from Slap Shot. It's about a different kind of hockey. In the game scenes, Slap Shot is about the power and rowdy anarchy of tough-guy hockey, while Youngblood is about the balletic grace of precision skating. Lowe and his co-star Patrick Swayze if added together would weigh about as much as Mario Lemieux and would only come up to Mario's chest. Youngblood is not the type of hockey player who crunches the other guy's bones. He's 5'10" and 160 pounds. Instead of bowling the opposition over, he skates around them and zooms past them with his speed and agility. Many of the more macho players and rowdier fans think he's kind of a wuss, so he must eventually prove his manhood. He goes into secret training with Mr. Miyagi so he can use some new kind of Hockate on the evil thug opponent.
I'm no expert on hockey, but it seems to me that Lowe and Swayze did look pretty good out there on the ice, and the hockey scenes can be involving, but the love story seems to go on forever pointlessly, and there really isn't enough humor or general fun to make it a good entertainment picture. In general, this is a slow, low-energy movie with a cliché-ridden script. To me, the greatest weakness of the film is that it doesn't seem to convey Youngblood's love of the game. If you saw this film in fast forward without the game scenes, you'd think he was studying to be a master of the modern dance or modern avant-garde drama or something, because although he talks about how much he loves hockey, it's hard to see why. He doesn't seem to be having fun when he plays, and he doesn't talk about his goals or dreams, or the great players he'd like to emulate. It seems that the only reason he really wants to play hockey is so he won't have to work on the farm.
By the way, the goalie on Youngblood's team is played by Keanu Reeves, affecting a French-Canadian accent in his movie debut. You have to love that.
Dude, where's my puck? I can't find it, ya betcha.
Tuna's notes in yellow
Youngblood is a by-the-numbers sports story, of the "underdog youth
makes good" variety. Within this framework, the actual sports change from film to film, and
sometimes the stories are about a team rather than one individual, but
the basic curve of excitement never changes. The newcomer needs to
excel because sports are his ticket out of a life of drudgery. The
budding star has talent, but is missing some key ingredient which
holds him back. After a few initial successes, he is thwarted by an
evil entity. Sometimes the obstacle is a player on another team, other
times an injury, sometimes the problem lies within himself. In the
course of the film the youngster overcomes the problem, defeats the nemesis, gets
the girl, and wins the big game in time for the credits to roll over
Well, we all know the formula, so the rest of the film is predictable, but I really enjoyed this film. I basically like this formula to begin with, and it helps when the film is about a sport you enjoy and/or know something about. In the end, however, it is not the familiar story, but the unique execution that makes this kind of picture succeed or fail. In this case, the characters are all likeable, the hockey action is believable, and the film even managed a couple of serious themes. Best of all, the film is liberally sprinkled with humor. An easy watch.
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