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Thursday, 19 May 2016

Retro Movie Review: The Best of Times (1986) #RobinWilliams

The Best of Times 
Cast: Robin Williams, Kurt Russell, Pamela Reed, Holly Palance, Donald Moffatt 
Genre: Comedy
Estimated Worldwide Gross: $7,790,931 
Trivia: Robin Williams and Kurt Russell played high school football years before they became actors. They also performed their own stunts during the football scenes & minus body doubles 

Plot: A small-time loser determines to have one more shot at the big time by winning a football game

'If You Are Into (American) Football, You Will Enjoy This Film More'

Who loves football? If you mean the game where 11 players kick a ball into the opponent's net? Pretty much everyone, but for most Americans and Canadians. Who loves American football? Well, Americans do. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most popular sports in America today. 

The Best of Times is a comedy about (American) football. But then, the comedy here is what I'd refer to as rather substandard. 

The first time I saw this film, I thought 'oh another Robin Williams film I've never seen or heard of before. I'd better take a look'. At first viewing, I thought it was okay, but now I have come to realise there are a lot of scenes or things happening, as well as dialogue that was being uttered by the characters that I didn't really care for. I don't know where to begin, perhaps I should touch upon the story: narrative-wise, it was rather messy, convoluted and confusing. It felt like, at times, it was talking about a specific thing - only to jump onto something else completely different. There was never really any consistency. Sometimes, I didn't really know what was going on, and what the characters were saying and in the context of their situation. Robin Williams here is a cross between Clark Kent and Woody Allen, which is both a good and bad thing. 

Suffice to say, but for the football match, there wasn't really enough interesting and excitable moments within the script to make me want to sustain further interest in this movie. It was mostly dull as the story plods along, without delivering anything that is particularly memorable or mentionable. The actual setting and feel came off as being so dated and old-fashioned, flat, which made the film feel sluggish. 

Though the dinner scene was kind of all right with Jack and Reno trying to get a glimpse of a football game that was on TV, without their other halves catching them in on the act. And some of the football scenes were rather interesting; for someone who isn't a follower of American football, it was intriguing and action-packed - although it is not quite as exciting and entertaining as say Wildcats

In reference to the intimate scenes with Holly Palance, who plays Jack's wife, usually, when Robin Williams does on-screen love or kissing scenes (some prime examples being The Fisher King, Hook, Flubber), they are very, very good; there is a tenderness & subtlety to them that is also deeply profound, emotive and meaningful. But here in this movie, the lovemaking scenes looked totally unconvincing and were extremely awkward. In fact, they were naff and corny to the point that I found myself squirming as I sat through them. They were that bad. Sorry to disappoint, but sexual chemistry? More like sexually cringe-inducing. 

Regardless that this is a comedy, - or be it any genre of film, if you are going to include lovemaking or kissing scenes, it has to be performed by the actors in a manner that speaks to the audience or film watchers in ways that touch them, emotionally & in their heart & makes you want to connect with that couple or couple- to- be. Sadly, this rule doesn't apply in The Best of Times

Another problem with his character, Jack - & contrary to some viewers of this film - was that some of his reactions and behaviours towards his wife was way over-dramatic. There was something about that character that was 'off' in some ways. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but he was a bit, what one might say, 'erratic'. By perchance it may have to do with him clinging to the past, rather than letting go and moving on with his life. 

There was another football movie that was also released in 1986 and interestingly, it starred Kurt Russell's missus Goldie Hawn titled Wildcats. That film was miles better than this effort. 

The Best of Times is appropriately categorised as a sports comedy because that is what it is: a comedy about football. It's a semi-pro version of American football that is being played here. As a standalone sports comedy, this film is, adequate; but as a casual comedy movie itself, it disappoints on so many levels. I know that it is a sports movie, but for it to become more easily accessible for non-sports fans, mainstream audiences, the humour, jokes, funny lines that are uttered has to hit a nerve with the audience. Which is probably why Wildcats did rather well in the U.S box office, with takings of over $25 million. 

The humour in The Best of Times is not always fun as it ought to be for a comedy. As for Robin, he does give an okay performance, but it isn't anything that is particularly noteworthy or on the same lines as his other comedic roles. It's a shame the director doesn't go out of his way to utilise Robin's comedic talents and instead, alongside the scriptwriter, saddle him with such tired and unfunny dialogue. His character also came off on screen as being too angsty and whenever he was mad, annoyed, whiny, rather than making me laugh, his mannerisms and utterances becomes wholly unfunny and a nuisance. But Robin makes up for that with a physically, beefier build that is easily and aptly suited for football. 

The (American) football match is the main spectacle of this movie and as I said earlier, it was interesting in places. It is a hard impact and very physical sport that relies on speed, accuracy, power, good handling and receiving of the ball amongst other skills. 

Kurt Russell for me stood out in this movie more so than Robin, individually (despite the movie and the story being heavily centred around Robin's character, Jack); collectively with Robin and vice-versa, due to the not so good script, Robin and Kurt are pretty much even. The team-up of these two '80s movie actors, who were still yet to be big stars at the time of this film's release, sounded great on paper. Kurt, in some ways as Remo, was a little bit like his other character Jack Burton of Big Trouble In Little China, with his suave bravado - the only difference here as Remo, (a) he was a lot smarter and (b) he wasn't as naive and arrogant, yet he was more easily prone to being more annoyed or irritated. But Jack's wife played by Holly Palance was flat; no disrespect to her but her performance did not impress me. Her and Robin, chemistry-wise, just didn't click as an onscreen couple. The characterizations of the wives are even bare with practically little to say about & separate them and because of that, I didn't really care for them or what they said. 

But the ending when Jack has the leather pigskin ball and runs all the way to the other end of the field and scores a touchdown for his team, that was arguably the highlight of not just the game, but for the whole movie. Which in itself could have improved a great deal in many areas. 

This movie was a bomb in theaters when it was originally released in America, and having seen The Best of Times, I can clearly understand why. The comedy is mostly unfunny, poor and insufficient. 

Yet as an (American) football movie, as an honourable mention, The Best of Times is up there with Wildcats and Any Given Sunday. & that is despite this film being nowhere as good as the former. 


Favourite Robin Williams Character Lines

- You better watch it, doctor death! I'm pretty damn fast for a Caucasian

- Low-life, blackmailing, chicken s**t squid? Welcome aboard, Reno

- Jack.... Aquarius.... gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta... satisfy

- Come and get me, sucka! 


Pros +

- The American football action 

- Kurt Russell 

- As a sports comedy, it succeeds in some parts

Cons - 

- Movie's humour is uneven and isn't always funny as it should be

- Jack's wife (Holly Palance), plus no real chemistry between herself and Robin Williams's Jack

- Jack's often erratic behaviour & temperament 

- The love scenes were awkward, flimsy and cornier than sexy 

- Narrative was all over the place and confusing to boot, was difficult to follow

- Lacks any hysterical comedy moments one would expect in a typical Robin Williams comedy movie

- But for the football match, it was mostly dull   

Final Verdict:

Granted, The Best of Times, like with most of Robin's pre-Good Morning, Vietnam offerings - but for Mork & Mindy & The Survivors which are my faves in terms of comedies -, is not up there with Robin Williams's best. Much like the expression, the director (who was apparently Canadian, and American football, as we know, isn't widely, nor commonly known in that part of North America) pretty much dropped the ball with this one. How a film with Robin Williams and Kurt Russell on American football be as mundane as it is, is lamentable. But alas, Roger Corman has a lot to answer for this. 

If it wasn't for the impressive American football scenes, I would have knocked a further mark off for this movie's review score. 

That being said, if you like American football, then you will enjoy The Best of Times, far more than I did. 


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