The Best of Times (1986)

best of times

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10 

4-Word Review: Play the game over.

            Robin Williams plays Jack Dundee, a man who on November 15, 1972 dropped a sure touchdown pass in a football game with their chief rival Bakersfield. Now, 13 years later, he still dwells on it all the time and even watches old film footage of it in his basement. He becomes obsessed with playing the game again with all of the same players. The problem is that most everyone has moved on including their star quarterback Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell) who is now working as a local car mechanic due to a knee injury that he suffered during that game. Jack persists and eventually gets a game scheduled, but that proves to be only part of the battle.

The script, by Ron Shelton, has an interesting point that could touch anybody. Who out there doesn’t want to go back and relive some past mistake, or regret, and make it better? The fact that he also lives in a small town and is constantly being reminded of it hits home as well. I was born and raised in a small, Midwestern town, so I know it can be hard to live down certain things. So, in context, it is a great theme. As people age and fall into a dull routine of a dead-end job and marriage it is sometimes an event that happened to them when they were younger that matters and in that capacity it is a great idea.

The problem is that the execution of it is contrived and dull. The first 45 minutes are spent with endless conversations of the ‘dropped pass’ that goes nowhere. Some of the psychological tactics that Jack uses to motivate not only his teammates and those from the other team into playing the game is somewhat interesting, but not terribly funny. In fact there is very, very little in this movie that is funny, or even halfway creative for that matter. It seems to be nothing more than the regurgitated ‘feel good sports formula’ that has been done a million times before without adding anything new. The final game sequence has all the expected clichés and what should be exciting and thrilling becomes boring and tiresome. I was almost hoping that Jack would drop the damn thing again when he had his second chance, which gets shown in annoyingly slow motion, as it would have been funnier and if anything given us some sort of surprise as everything else is painfully predictable.

The only time this movie that gets even slightly amusing, and I do emphasize amusing as there is nothing in here that is at any time hilarious, is when they bring back all the old players who are now middle-aged and out-of-shape and try to hold a practice. Having now grown to middle-age myself I can say succinctly that you can’t go back again even if you want to and the movie brings this up in some of the vignettes, but then doesn’t go far enough with it.  Instead, just as the film should be gaining some sort of momentum, it gets bogged down with a meandering segment involving the men trying to reconcile with their wives after some inconsequential tiff.

There is also the fact that if someone who has not moved on in their life and dwells on something as much as Jack does than in most cases would be unable to have long-term relationships with other people, or even hold down jobs. Yet here our hero is in a pretty good marriage and a cushy job. It would have been more interesting and probably funnier had the Jack character been a crook, or living on the absolute fringes of society and not been able to adjust to life until he had a second chance at the catch. Of course this would have been considered too ‘edgy’ by most Hollywood producers and I’m sure test audiences of which Hollywood is very dependent on would not have approved, which probably explains why the character is so boringly normal.

For what it’s worth Williams gives an energetic and engaging performance. The character is not all that well developed, but Robin gives it some life and helps make the movie passable. Russell seems a bit a dull here despite being an always durable actor. I realize the character is a bit passive, but having him transform into an aggressive, angry leader at the end seemed forced and phony. I was also disappointed that legendary character actors appear here including Carl Ballantine, Dub Taylor, Kathleen Freeman, and R.G. Armstrong and are given nothing more than a line of dialogue a piece and in the case of Ballantine only one word, which seems outrageous.

I have nothing to recommend here. I am giving it two points simply because the production values are high enough that it doesn’t look amateurish, but the flat, slightly implausible storyline needs to be injected with some sort of originality. Even for fans of Williams I would say stay away from it as seeing him in such blah proceedings doesn’t make it worth it.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: January 31, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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