Robert Downey Jr. as a backup quarterback. Believe it. It happened on the big screen back in 1988 in a film called Johnny Be Good (Bud S. Smith). I was seven years-old, Matt Ryan was three when this football-esque comedy was released in American theatres.
I say “football-esque” because while the story, characters, and imagery satisfy the criteria for being a football film, they just don’t cut it thematically and operationally. The back of the DVD summarizes the plot as the following:
It’s an orgy of wine, women and cash kickbacks when two of the biggest college football factories in the country scramble to get a high school wunderkind on their rosters! Anthony Michael Hall (“The Dead Zone”), Robert Downey, Jr. (Less Than Zero), Paul Gleason (Not Another Teen Movie), Robert Downey, Sr. (Boogie Nights), Jennifer Tilly (Liar Liar) and Uma Thurman (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) star in this outrageous coming-of-age comedy that’ll leave you cheering for more! Moving from lusty limousine rides to all-night strip joints, Johnny gets the workout of his life…and an education he’ll never forget. But when he discovers that he’s become the object of an NCAA investigation and an embarrassment to his family and friends, Johnny shows that he still has one more option play left to run.
The product description gives one the impression that Johnny Be Good could be two parts Animal House and two parts Weird Science. Just a bit? When in actuality, the film is not like either of them. Robert Downey Jr.’s Leo has these outbursts that might channel the more peculiar moments in Animal House, but ultimately, Johnny Be Good is a whole lot of snooze. The opening credits consist of a game sequence (the state championship to be exact and Ashcroft High won it 52 to 0), and it’s the only game in the whole film (though, it’s not the only depiction of game-play in the film. There are two sequences where Johnny is playing drums in his room and watching what is most likely NFL action on his TV).
The film attempts to use verbal and physical humor (both lewd and sligthly esoteric) to rustle up some feathers surrounding dodgy college recruiting tactics. In the end, however, the director’s efforts (and the writers’ as well) pushed out what is, for me, the worst football movie ever. Yes, I am equating “worst” with “boring.” I really wanted to turn the DVD off halfway through the film.
The reason that I stuck it out, though, was because I wanted to see whether or not there would be one shot or one scene that could salvage some of my sympathy. There was no such shot or scene. I found myself more tickled pink by the set design. Johnny’s bedroom walls are decorated with a stencil of Charlie Chaplin, a photo of David Bowie, and a sketch of John Lennon. And, this film was Uma Thurman’s third film project. The credits read “Introducing Uma Thurman.” Her torso was quite ample.
After Johnny Be Good failed to amuse or amaze me, I popped in Black Hawk Down and watched about twenty minutes of the film with commentary by four of the men who were there: Col. Tom Matthews, Col. Lee Van Arsdale, Msgt. Matt Eversmann, and Col. Danny McKnight (all retired).
I came across a couple cool finds when I was googling. Click here to read about what happened when McKnight watched Ridley Scott’s film at the theatre. Click here to read about a New York Times article on the Rangers’ Ethic.
Click here for a few movie stills from Johnny Be Good.