' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Youngblood (1986)

Friday, August 04, 2017

Friday's Old Fashioned: Youngblood (1986)

In “Goon” (2011), Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott) was a bouncer turned hockey player who was paid less to play hockey than to fight. And while director Michael Dowse took an empathetic view of his Goon, he nevertheless allowed a distinct sadness to permeate the film because Doug knew that ultimately he was not a real hockey player, just a dude paid to brawl. “Youngblood” (1986), in which the titular Dean (Rob Lowe) turns his back on the family farm in upstate New York to cross the border and play for the Hamilton Mustangs, has it both ways, playing hockey to kill and getting in fights to win. Indeed, Dean cannot attain his requisite elixir until he learns to properly throw a punch, suggesting goons and goal-scorers go hand-in-hand.


The fighting, of course, is a byproduct of manly acceptance and affirmation, which is much of what the movie boils down to, traditional male bonding rituals involving things like getting Dean trashed on tequila the night before his first practice and being taped down and having his nether regions shaved. Only when Dean has endured these episodes does the team’s star player Sutton (Patrick Swayze) give the newbie a thumbs-up, though Dean being pretty good at putting the puck in the net does not hurt. Sutton has his own contradictions, initially established as a loutish party animal before pulling back to show him as both a burgeoning star who wants to get paid and a guy with respect for game.

Though the latter is essentially limited to a single scene, it is nevertheless “Youngblood’s” most authentic moment, less in its rote writing and more in Swayze’s convincing aura, who in the moment comes across like he’s workshopping the role of “Point Break’s” Bodhi, suddenly a Zen master. It also goes to show why Swayze, injecting dreck with charisma, had more lasting power as an actual actor than Lowe, the latter just sort of sliding by on his pretty boy features, never more so than when his character is asked by Jessi Chadwick (Cynthia Gibb) if he still has his teeth. It’s meant as a jokey scene but Lowe’s face is framed by a pink-hued movie theater marquee over his left shoulder, a true movie star shot, as if everything coming is owed to him, like Jessi herself, the Zamboni driver and coach’s daughter who dreams of escaping somewhere else, though her dreams swiftly fade into the background.

If her being the daughter of the coach (Ed Lauter) initially seems like the prime point of contention, that issue fades into the background too as Dean’s rivalry with villainous Carl Racki (George Finn), a true blue goon, escalates. Racki cheap shots Sutton so hard that Hamilton’s star player gets sent to the hospital, which prompts a discontented Dean to briefly quit the team and return to the farm, only to have his brother (Jim Youngs) become his mentor, inciting a training montage that falls short of, say, “Rocky IV” but well ahead of, say, “Teen Wolf Too”, readying him for the climactic on-ice fisticuffs with Racki.


Dean’s father (Eric Nesterenko) also lends his son a helping hand, explaining that “It’s ok to hit a bag in the barn, but you’ve got to learn to survive on the ice”, a strange line in which the second half of the sentence seems to contradict in the first, which is perhaps appropriate, emblematic of the film’s incongruities. After all, Dean’s desire to throw down with Racki upsets Jessi so much that she dismisses her paramour’s macho pursuits in an impassioned speech and walks out on him. Alas, she comes back to him in the end, after he’s won the Big Game and the Big Fight, for reasons never made clear, as if somewhere there was a connecting scene that went missing. And so if Jessie’s desire to escape her surroundings falls by the wayside, so do her principals, unintentionally evoking the way in which sports stars imperfections are so often not merely glossed over but happily forgotten.

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