Semi-Tough (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Got to go pee.

            Billy Clyde Puckett (Burt Reynolds) and Marvin Tiller (Kris Kristopherson) are two players for the Miami football team who just happened to live with the daughter of the team’s owner Barbra Jane Bookman (Jill Clayburgh). Strangely enough they do not have sexual relations and despite seeming like an odd arrangement to others the three manage to get along just fine until Marvin proposes to Barbra, which starts to make Billy jealous. Billy then spends the rest of the time trying to win her over and break-up the impending marriage.

This movie, based on the novel by Dan Jenkins, has an interesting premise, but I was disappointed that it didn’t start from the beginning when the three met and started rooming together. It certainly seemed to be an unusual set-up and I wanted more background to these characters and a history and the film doesn’t give any making it incomplete. The plot itself is a bit under-developed and at times seems to have nowhere to go. To make up for it the film delves into some odd comic scenarios that have nothing to do with the characters, or story. Some of these are interesting on their own terms while the others fall flat.

One of these segments features silent film actress Lotte Lenya in her last film appearance. Today’s audiences will know her for her outstanding performance as the villainess Rosa Klebb in the James Bond classic From Russia with Love. Her she plays a massage therapist named Clara Pelf who has some really weird and painful ideas about physical therapy. The scene seems just thrown in there for its own sake and doesn’t do much for the film as a whole, but seeing Lotte banter with Burt is a lot of fun regardless.

Another and even more bizarre segment features Bert Convy as a motivational speaker who hosts a marathon 48 hour self-help seminar, but will not allow any member of the audience to get up and go to the bathroom for the first 12 hours, which seemed too implausible even for satire. However, this scene does feature the film’s best line and quite possibly one of the best lines in film history, which occurs when one of the female members of the audience gets up and states in front of everyone “I just peed in my pants and it feels great!”

The football scenes don’t gel and in fact I wouldn’t even categorize this as a sports movie, or even a football one. For one thing director Michael Ritchie and writer Walter Bernstein didn’t seem to put much thought, or research into the sport, or how teams function. This becomes obvious in the segment where the players are shown staying up late and drinking at a bar the night before a big game and even bringing women back with them to their hotel rooms without having any type of curfew. There is another scene featuring Brian Dennehy as a big, intimidating player T.J. Lambert who dangles a woman off a roof and threatens to drop her when she does not give-in to his kinky sexual demands. He does this in front of the rest of the team who laugh it off like it is no big deal and state that he does it frequently when in reality the man would probably have a lot of lawsuits on his hands, jail time, and league suspension. It also paints big players too much as a stereotype and being nothing more than dumb out-of-control morons bordering on sociopathic.

The team logos and uniforms worn by the players during the games are unimaginative. The ones worn by the players representing the Denver team in the movie look almost exactly like the Texas Longhorns and I am almost surprised that they didn’t sue.

Burt of course is highly engaging throughout. The guy has terrific comic timing and I love the way he delivers his humorous lines. It is his presence alone that really makes this movie work. My only problem with his casting was that he was forty at the time and looking just a wee bit too old for the part. His hair also resembles a toupee and I don’t know of any player in football history who smokes a long pipe, or listens to Gene Autry records. What is worse is that he plays a lot of Gene’s records and forces the viewer to have to listen to the tunes although he makes up for it a bit with his Gene Autry quotes, which are funny.

Kristopherson as an actor has never connected with me even though I love him as a singer/songwriter. In the movies I have seen him in he always seems either half-a-sleep, or stoned. His presence and delivery is too laid back for my tastes however, the part where he is shown half-naked in bed and doing a commercial for a deodorant and then uses the product to create a mock erection is great.

Clayburgh is passable as the female lead, but I didn’t like her southern accent.  Robert Preston, who plays her father and the team owner, is okay, but his role is rather meaningless. The scene showing him crawling around on his office floor is stupid and pointless.

For some reason, despite certain flaws and an overall superficial treatment I still enjoyed this movie and found it entertaining. This is a great example of a 70’s romance with all the expected elements and clichés nicely put in place. It is also a chance to see Ron Silver in an early role as the team’s kicker who has no lines of dialogue, but ends up being a scene stealer anyways.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Ritchie

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD (Widescreen Edition)

6 responses to “Semi-Tough (1977)

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  5. Joseph Kearny

    Enjoyable film from the director of Smile (1975). Reynold’s was an underappreciated actor and this is one of his best film’s.

  6. Just sit back and enjoy. It’s true the film ambles, but it’s fun and I like Reynolds and Clayburgh together here and in Starting Over

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