Without Limits (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This was kind of a disappointing movie for me. The reviews were outstanding and the subject matter was interesting to me, but I found it totally boring. I kept saying to myself, "how can you make a dull movie about Steve Prefontaine?", but this is the second one.

Pre's life story is perfect for a movie. 

  • He went to college in the late 60's era of revolt, and unlike college athletes before him, felt free to say what was on his mind to his coach, reporters, race officials, whatever. He once called the Olympic Organizing Committee a pack of corrupt leeches, he publicly accused top AAU officials of being on the take. (He was right, by the way. The AAU got its balls cut off, but some of the Olympic and NCAA abuses continue to this day.) Pre told it like it was, even before Howard Cosell claimed to.

  • He refused to run the standard pace - preferring to run in front from start to finish. 

  • He screwed every woman within reach, even on the night before a meet. 

  • He broke every rule, and usually proved he was right.

  • In addition, his college track coach was the guy who invented Nikes, and Pre was the lab animal.

Pre lost the big race of his life. He went to the cursed Munich Olympics, and when they finally resumed, he finished out of the medals in the 5000. Actually, the truth about the race is more complicated. The legendary Lasse Viren won the race with a time that would have been one of Prefontaine's slowest of the year, but Pre got boxed in and elbowed every time he tried to break in the first 2/3. Some people say the other racers agreed to box him because they despised his arrogance, although the movie does not really explore that possibility. 


there is a brief flash of Amy Jo Johnson's body as she crosses in front of Crudup in bed. You can't see much of anything.
The movie makes him seem like a guy whose abrasiveness was universally loved for its colorful rugged individualism, rather than viewed as the boorishness often associated with an arrogant loudmouth, which is how some people saw it. Prefontaine ran two more international races right after Munich, but he had lost the eye of the tiger, and got whupped. Then he had to go back to Oregon to work as a bartender and try to train while living in dire poverty. At the same time, the East German athletes and others were free to train 16 hours a day if they wanted to, an hypocrisy which Pre pointed out often, to anyone who would listen. What I think is the most inspiring part of the story was shortchanged by the movie! Pre got himself back in shape despite inadequate facilities, running in sub-zero weather, and severe tendinitis. He just ran through the pain, as was his wont. Then he won the two mile race in the Sunkist Meet by a hundred yards over all the best runners in the world, including Liquori, Shorter, and Viren. He actually lapped two of the runners - how often do you see somebody get lapped in an eight lap race in world class competition? Now wouldn't all that make a good, long chapter in the story? Just when he was rolling toward the next Olympics in Montreal, where he was expected to win a gold, he died in a car crash at 24, and his blood alcohol level showed he was drunk as a skunk.

Anyway, great story, right? How could you mess it up? 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, also a full screen version

  • no meaningful features

But the movie is duller than dishwater, as it concentrates excessively on technical insider crap about running, and the subplot with Pre's "pure" girlfriend, which is totally soporific, and should have been shitcanned from the script. (Robert Towne's last movie was Tequila Sunrise, which tells you more than six pages of my exposition. I just don't know what happened to the edge he once brought to his famous script for "Chinatown"). Plus, the lighting is often squirrelly. The one redeeming element of the movie was Donald Sutherland's complex portrayal of Pre's coach. The earlier Disney movie, "Prefontaine", at least got closer to the heart of some of the major issues, but neither was likely to challenge "Hoosiers" in the sports movie pantheon. 

By the way, the movie completely bombed at the box, despite excellent reviews.

The Critics Vote

  • Apollo 73/100, Beradinelli 3/4, Ebert 3/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 91% positive reviews, 100% from the major reviewers

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.1/10, Apollo users an excellent 88/100 
  • With their dollars ... a complete flop. Relatively high budget at $25 million, insignificant gross below $1 million
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. I guess it must be a pretty good movie because all the critics liked it, and it scores high at IMDb. Of course, nobody liked it enough to go to it. I didn't care for it, but probably because I wanted it to be more - more radical on the one hand, more inspirational on the other. I thought it was just a sanitized version of Pre's infinitely interesting life. Pre was one of a kind, and I wish he were still with us, pissing us off, and telling it like it is.

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