Today! Because you took the purest thing in your life and corrupted it –
Blue Chips (1994)
Directed by William Friedkin
Starring Nick Nolte (x2), Mary McDonnell (x3), J.T. Walsh (x2), Ed O’Neill, Alfre Woodard, Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Larry Bird, Anthony C. Hall, Robert Wuhl (x2), Bob Cousy, Matt Nover, Dick Vitale, Louis Gossett Jr.
My favorite college basketball movie of all time (yeah, you heard me, Hoosiers), Blue Chips is a pretty over-the-top hoops spectacle that launched the epic film career of that acting titan, Shaquille O’Neal, the Hardcourt Olivier! The Big Thespian! Such a huge deal was Shaq when he entered the NBA that this film was billed as a Shaq/Nolte buddy picture, a 48 Hours set on a college campus, but no! While Shaq does have some acting tasks in the film – and he’s okay – what he really adds to Blue Chips is the ability to dunk, and in the big game, that’s all he does. Over and over and over. And if you like dunks – and who the hell doesn’t? – it’s pretty awesome, in a very 1994 kinda way.
But no, Nick Nolte is the driving force of this cheese masterpiece. His thinly veiled Bobby Knight impression is explosively crazy, and tends to overwhelm the ho-hum tale of teens getting paid to play at this college. There is a terrific series of scenes where Nolte shouts at players – upon finding out they took money or shaved points, where he shouts at referees – because obviously that’d be included, and where he shouts at scheming money-man J.T. Walsh, who shouts back at him just as much. And it’s all great, if you appreciate incessant shouting in your sports films, and again, who the hell doesn’t?
Written by sports movie god Ron Shelton, and directed by the once great William Friedkin, Blue Chips has a lot more pedigree than you’d realize, after watching the movie. And yet, for all my mock derision here, I’ve still got Blue Chips ahead of a lot of movies in my all-time estimation. It’s insanely watchable, and the plan, apparently, to cover up the real-life athletes lack of acting ability by having Nolte and Walsh dial it up to 15 the whole film completely works. There isn’t a dull spot in the movie. Sure, it didn’t win any awards (we get it, Hoosiers, you’re a better movie), but it’s still a slickly edited, tumultuous bag of yelling that sucks me in whenever it’s on TV. It might only garner 3 stars out of 5 in most generous critical estimations, but it’s a goddamn 9 out of 10 on the Happy Fun-o-meter.
Shaq did grab a Razzie nomination for Worst New Star for his role as Neon Boudeaux – his character’s name is Neon Boudeaux, for Chrissakes! – but there was no award for Best Central American Geography Lesson, as Neon schools his tutor on the path from Mexico to Panama. Classic Neon!
Sure, we’re adding three guys to the Two-Timers club – #360 Cape Fear‘s Nick Nolte and #341 Good Morning, Vietnam co-stars J.T. Walsh and Robert Wuhl, and that’s all great, but today we’re also breaking the glass ceiling of the Three-Timers club, as Mary McDonnell becomes the first woman, finally, to join the club. Having just popped up in #318 Independence Day yesterday, and #378 Sneakers back in late March, McDonnell is the 11th member of the club, finally bringing a little gender diversity to the group. Welcome!