For my “Introduction to Cinema Studies” course, we watched Fritz Kiersch’s Tuff Turf today. It seemed like an odd choice, to me. I didn’t know that the 80’s Teen Melodrama was such a respected genre in cinematic academia, but apparently it is. Anyways, it was probably one of the more ridiculous movies I’ve seen, but it was also one of the most purely enjoyable ones, too. People say that they watch shows like The O.C. and Gossip Girl because they’re so overdramatic that they’re funny, but this movie is a thousand times more entertaining than anything on those shows.
James Spader plays Morgan, a new kid in town who immediately finds himself at odds with the local tough guys (yes, similarities to Rebel Without a Cause run rampant). He does manage to make one new friend in Jimmy (played by “Robert Downey”!), and also conveniently wins over the heart of Frankie (Kim Richards), who is dating Nick, the leader of the local gang. Despite repeated threats and lashings from Nick and his gang, Morgan can’t leave well enough alone, and it all (of course) ends with a good ol’ fashioned showdown.
It’s pretty hilarious to see James Spader playing such a tough guy here, but he does a decent job. He swaggers around and looks attractive, but I couldn’t help but think of his current middle-aged persona and appearance while I was watching the movie. Meanwhile, Robert Downey Jr. doesn’t seem to have changed at all over the past 24 years, and his charm is already in full swing here, despite the fact that this is one of his first roles (Weird Science, which I still need to see, came out late that year.). Though it’s a somewhat small role, he’s given a few great one-liners that he delivers with his classic Downey wryness.
The dialogue is laughably bad at times, and Tuff Turf is quite dated. Other similar films of the time, such as Say Anything, hold up much better now, because there’s a timeless quality about them that this film lacks. There’s a reason why this movie is not nearly as well known as some of the other big 80’s teen flicks. But I really have no other way to describe this movie besides “fun”. The plot is supposedly serious, but I would not describe this as a “downer” in any way.
We were watching it in class under the guise of its “unique cinematography”. But I could tell that most people were just having a blast watching it, and I heard lots of laughter both at purposely and unintentionally hilarious parts. One of those unintentionally funny scenes comes when Morgan sits himself down at a piano at the local country club and earnestly serenades Frankie in front of a large audience (though I have no idea if Spader was actually singing or not). Obviously, not everything here works. But I found myself getting sucked into the film, and actually kind of caring what happened to these characters. The plot is very over-the-top, but if you’re looking for a cheesy, overdramatic teen movie, then you’re likely to have a good time watching Tuff Turf.