a critiQal film review Necessary Roughness (1991)

  • DVD

Plot: After Texas State University loses their NCAA standings - and their team - due to scandal, a new coach (Elizondo) is called in, against the Dean's (Miller) wishes, to pull together a new football team from the student body. With a 34-year-old quarterback (Bakula), a female placekicker (Ireland) and a team of misfits, the odds are definitely against them when they face the top-ranked Texas Colts.

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Back in the early 90’s, a little football-themed comedy came along that was, well, under-appreciated at the time. Starring an odd cast of characters that included Quantum Leap (TV) star Scott Bakula, Robert Loggia, Hector Elizondo, Larry Miller, Sinbad and supermodel Kathy Ireland, Necessary Roughness seemed to be a football comedy destined for the cheap bin.

For those of us who liked it, then, Necessary Roughness became one of those guilty pleasures – – kind of like an adult admitting they like a Miley Cyrus song these days. Not something we really talked about, but something to be remembered with a certain fondness anyway.

Of course, as we grow older, our tastes change, and films (and music) we liked earlier take on a whole different light when seen years later. Apparently, that new light has either garnered fans of the film or the DVD has gotten scarce, as Amazon is now offering the DVD for the princely sum of $32.00 – remarkable for a film that got so many bad reviews more than 2 decades ago.

So, when I saw Necessary Roughness pop up in my NetFlix® queue, I decided it was time to give it another viewing. Would this guilty pleasure from my teen years still keep me laughing, or would a new viewing show me how really bad yet another fave of my youth (i.e. David Hasselhoff’s “Knight Rider” (TV)) really was?

Scott Bakula, who rose to fame in the 80’s and 90’s on the small screen with Quantum Leap (TV), takes on the role of an aging quarterback trying to lead a team of misfits to glory in Necessary Roughness – and shows a little bit of why he stuck to the small screen. He’s okay, but he just doesn’t have the same draw on the big screen that he managed with Quantum Leap (TV) (unfortunately, his second big attempt at the small screen, Enterprise (TV), didn’t draw many viewers either, and was quickly canceled). Instead, while he seems to be invested in proving himself to be a movie actor, his performance, while heartfelt, is less than convincing, and his obligatory emotional moment is a bit painful to watch.

The cast around him has a couple of future movie stars (Jason Bateman among them), as well as a couple of old hats at the movie biz (Elizondo, Loggia), but for the most part, nobody really tries to invest too much in their characters, and most viewers won’t even remember the fictitious names even when they have just disappeared off the screen. Instead, the cast sticks to it’s cardboard cutouts, and plays the characters with a exuberant blandness that won’t differentiate this team from any other team of goofs on the big screen. Even Larry Miller, mugging for the camera, isn’t really memorable, despite his rather silly performance as the Dean.

The story is pretty straightforward, and there really aren’t any surprises waiting around the corner for regular moviegoers. There’s gotta be a blueprint for feel-good football flicks, and despite throwing in a bit more comedy (this is, after all, supposed to be a comedy, not a drama), follows that blueprint to the letter.

So, without any surprises and with a cast performing on a ho-hum level, is Necessary Roughness really that bad? Surprisingly, no. Sure, there’s a large dose of cheesiness to the film, and sure, the actors could have done better. But, despite that, the film manages to come across as a rather funny feel-good football flick.

Maybe it’s the idea that all of the actors, those with lots of experience (Loggia) and those with nearly none (Ireland) all manage to produce decent, if not exactly inspiring, performances. Even people who we usually can’t stand (Sinbad, Rob Schneider) manage to produce more laughs than anything else they’ve managed to eke out since (a must-see for 90’s “SNL” fans: Rob Schneider channels his “makin’ copies” persona from SNL (TV) into a scene). Usually in a film with such a varied cast, there are going to be a few groaners among the cast, yet this cast is amazingly even-keeled.

Or maybe it’s the fact that despite it’s cheesiness, it’s cookie-cutter storyline, and it’s cardboard characters, the film actually manages to keep the viewer’s attention from start to finish. While Necessary Roughness will never make anybody’s list of best football films, it does manage to be more entertaining than it has any right to be.

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