Johnny Be Good (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: College recruiters are sleazy.

            Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) is a star high school quarterback who finds that during his senior year he is being bombarded by college recruiters who try any means, legal, or otherwise, to get him to come to their school. Johnny enjoys taking advantage of it, which consists of going to their campuses and being lavished with parties, women, money, and other gifts. His girlfriend Georgia (Uma Thurman) doesn’t approve as she is afraid he may be tempted to cheat on her.

In some ways this is an interesting idea as the topic of college recruiting and some of the corruption that goes along with it has not been presented in any detailed fashion in too many other films, so it seems fresh. The film starts out as very farcical and humorous showing all these middle-aged men dressed like Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati  slobbering over Johnny wherever he goes and promising him just about anything. The film though switches gears awkwardly. The majority of it is crude and adolescent, but then turns into a serious and preachy morality tale at the end. This uneven approach doesn’t work as the goofy comedy is so over-the-top that any attempt at seriousness is lost. It would have worked better and been more riveting had it been presented as a drama.

The comedy isn’t all that hilarious either. There are some amusing bits here and there, but most of it falls flat. Even the film’s best comic moment gets botched. It entails Johnny being lead onto a platform on the field’s fifty yard line by a recruiter’s attractive, sexy wife who tries to get him to have sex with her.  Some of the other people at the party follow them and project their antics onto the stadium’s scoreboard. Unfortunately Johnny resists and ends up running away even though I thought it would have been a lot funnier seeing them actually having sex. I suppose the filmmakers feared that audiences would not want their hero cheating on his girlfriend, but if you spend time setting up a wild scenario then you need to go for the gusto.

This also brings up another problem with the movie, which is that all the nudity, at least in the theatrical 84 minute version I saw, is cut out. Apparently there is an R-rated version available with more nudity intact, but why cut it out to begin with? This film’s sophistication level is extremely low and typically when the script consists of nothing more than crude comedy the nudity at least helps.

The third problem with the film is that the adults are portrayed as being so stupid that they seem almost inhuman. I know it became trendy during the teen movies of the 80’s to show adults and other authority figures as being clueless, unhip, and basically just plain out-of-it, but this film goes too far with it. Georgia’s parents are particularly irritating. The casting of Marshall Bell as Georgia’s overly authoritative father was a mistake as he looks and behaves too much like Paul Gleason, who plays the coach.

Hall is okay in the lead, but the part where he is sitting in his room playing on his drums even though his drumsticks never makes contact with any of them while looking at football highlights on the TV is annoying. For one thing the look on his face makes it appear that he is in some sort of trance and the scene goes on too long and then gets shown again during the end credits.

Although the part is not very demanding it is still fun to see Thurman in an early role as the girlfriend. Robert Downey Jr. is also amusing in an early role as Johnny’s best friend although he looks pudgy and out-of-shape and not in condition for playing football. His father Robert Downey Sr. appears as an investigator.

By far and away the best part in the film is Paul Gleason as the high strung coach Hisler. He plays an extension of the part that he did in The Breakfast Club   and is even more hyped-up. He steals every scene he is in and is the most memorable thing about the film and helps save it from being a complete disaster.

Legendary sports announcer Howard Cosell appears as himself in a couple of amusing cameos, which is fun, but his hand shakes so much as it is holding the telephone receiver that he is talking into that it becomes distracting. Former Chicago Bears quarterback also appears as himself, but most young football fans today probably won’t even know who he is.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 25, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes (R version) 1Hour 24Minutes (PG-13 version)

Director: Bud S. Smith

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming

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