Tuff Turf (1985)

25 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: *1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Tuff Turf” was supposed to be the ‘80s version of “Rebel Without a Cause” and “West Side Story” in that it features teenage hoodlums and a heavy soundtrack. In this case, it’s a confusing bunch of youngsters and an obnoxious rock soundtrack that help make “Tuff Turf” one of the worst, most unpleasant teen movies to come around in the ‘80s.

The strange thing is that it starts out all right. In fact, I really liked the opening scene in which the local teenage gang is mugging an innocent bystander when a kid on a speeding bicycle comes along and is able to foil them, and get away fast. That was inspired and amusing. I was interested in seeing where this was going.

That kid is the protagonist of the story, named Morgan (James Spader), a preppy, rebellious teenager who has moved from Connecticut to the San Fernando Valley after his father lost his business and has taken a job as a taxi driver. Morgan attends his new school, where that same gang from the other night also attends. They’re out to get him, to humiliate him. They thrash his bike. Morgan could have fought back, but he chooses not to because his family keeps telling him that he brings trouble everywhere he goes. But the gang leader’s girlfriend (Kim Richards) catches Morgan’s eye, and his charm turns her on, leading to more danger from the gang.

James Spader and Kim Richards are likable actors, but their characters continue to make one stupid decision after another, just because the plot demands it. What infuriated me about the Richards character was her bizarre motivation (if there was any sort) for choosing to marry the gang leader, after she has realized that she likes Morgan and that the gang leader has treated her like scum.

The soundtrack to the film is just terrible. I wouldn’t even mind half of the rock songs that play throughout the movie, except that they’re all pretty bad. They’re not catchy, nor are they very memorable, except for a terrible cover of the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout.”

There’s one nice scene in the middle in which Morgan, the girlfriend, and their friends (including one played by Robert Downey, Jr. who is appealing, but not used enough) sneak into a country club, and Morgan sings a pleasant song while playing the piano. After all the loud, annoying rock music that has stormed over the film, it was nice to have a quieter, more pleasant music piece.

The film descends into complete madness in the final showdown between Morgan and the gang. It’s so badly-handled, so over the top, and so sadistic that it makes the central fight in “West Side Story” look supervised. What is this movie trying to say with its ending? Violence is the easy way out? There is nothing to gain from this ending—it’s another one of those “if the villain is dead, everything will be fine” climaxes. And what’s worse—the movie laboriously tries to regain its somewhat-light tone by taking us back to a night club immediately after the final fight. Here we are again, it’s fun, we’re hanging out with Morgan and the girl who seem happy together. Then what happens? The credits roll. I have never felt so angry about an ending quite like this.

“Tuff Turf” didn’t know what it wanted to be, so I don’t know what to take more from it. I felt unclean right after I watched it. This movie needed a serious script doctor, a better editor, and much more engaging material for James Spader, who’s actually pretty good in this movie under the circumstances. “Tuff Turf” is a shallow mess.

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