This sub-genre of movies smells like Limburger but tastes like Gouda

Guilty pleasures, that’s what they are.  Sports related movies often have a few common threads: an underdog overcoming unsurmountable odds and completing a near impossible tasks to achieve an unattainable goal.  Sports movies take the archetype of the hero’s journey and mimic it, eventually becoming the new mold for the archetype.  And, often, the story and the odds are representative of a greater issue mirroring society.  Not only are these movies about achieving fantastic goals, but they are movies with a message or a moral.

Rocky has become the prototype for this type of movie — “It’s a real Rocky story!”  But Rocky is a good movie.  Well, it’s a great movie, but that’s not the guilty pleasure.

There is somewhat of a sub genre out there. It’s not quite the category of “so bad, they’re good,” but rather, “I just have to watch and I don’t know why.”   These movies hit on all of the elements of the classic sports tale, but they add a little something extra, a stronger flavor of cheesiness that maintains the key elements of the Rocky archetype but surrounds them with over the top melodrama.  However, they are still compelling and I can’t help but watch and therein lies the guilty pleasure.

Aspen Extreme (1993)

This movie came out about a decade too late and fell victim to terrible marketing.  On its own merit, this is a decent film.  It follows the story of TJ Burke (Paul Gross) and Dexter Ruteki (Paul Berg), who leave their factory jobs in Detroit, to move to the “extreme” lifestyle of Aspen Ski Instructors.  This would have been cool in 1983 when skiing was still king of the slopes.  Instead, it came out as snowboarding was taking over, and anything “extreme” about this movie paled in comparison to what snowboarders were doing on the mountain.  Aspen Extreme was billed as the Top Gun of the Ski Slopes and, essentially, it was.  It takes the same story line and puts it on the slope.  The Top Gun pilots are Aspen Ski Instructors.  There’s love, betrayal and a battle for the top spot.  And, in both movies, the best friend dies, ultimately driving the main character to become the top gun and get the girl!  When it comes down to it though, I’ll take Aspen Extreme over Top Gun. This is also a movie that is ripe for a remake.  It could be made into a gritty drama revolving around extreme sports such as snowboarding and what people are willing to sacrifice for the lifestyle.  Rumors of a sequel have long been whispered, but I’d rather see a remake.  Are you listening, Paul Gross?

Compared to Rocky, Aspen Extreme earns a C+
Add its cheese factor and it earns a B+

The Replacements (2000)

No, this movie doesn’t have the cultural impact of the 1980s band with the same name, but it does have its high points, and, if you can ignore the flaws, it’s easy to enjoy.  Keanu Reeves plays Shane ‘Footsteps” Falco who was a stud college quarterback who had one disastrous game. Falco’s NFL career was short-lived as he earned the name ‘Footsteps,” for being afraid in the pocket and hearing the ‘footsteps.’  Now, he lives on a beat up house boat and scrapes gunk off the yachts in the harbor.  However, he gets his second chance when there is a football strike and grizzled veteran coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) pulls Falco out of retirement to become a scab football hero.  A rag-tag team of broken down players find redemption on the field and Falco finds self-confidence and love with cheerleader Annabelle Farrell (Brooke Langton).  Farrell is the only remaining cheerleader, because for some reason the cheerleaders are all gone too, and she hires a group of adult dancers who are able to distract opposing teams into making in-game errors. The reason for the missing cheerleaders is never explained, but don’t look too hard for answers in this movie — look for the moments.  It has some great moments.  One moment comes in the locker room when McGinty is trying to get the guys to unite as a team and he asks them what they’re afraid of.  The discussion quickly degenerates into some very large men talking about their fear of insects, but Falco saves the day and uses the metaphor and sinking feeling of quicksand to his current lot in life.

Compared to Rocky, The Replacements earns a C
Add its cheese factor and it earns an A-

Gladiator (1992)

Eight years before Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott rewrote history and stormed the Oscars with their movie Gladiator, James Marshall, Cuba Gooding Jr., Robert Loggia, and Brian Dennehy took on the world of underground boxing in this Gladiator.  Marshall is wrong-side-of-the-tracks teen Tommy Riley who is caught in the middle of gangs and tense race relations at his new school.  He is quickly befriended by good guy Abraham Lincoln Haines (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who nicknames Riley, Ghost.  The two both have a talent for fighting and are soon under the thumb of bad guy boxing promoter Jimmy Horn (Dennehy). Horn is an evil-to-the-core kind of guy, willing to let anything and all things terrible happen to his boxers so long as he makes a buck.  Robert Loggia is the sympathetic trainer, Pappy Jack.  You have to have a guy named Pappy in a movie like this.  As sympathetic as Pappy may be, he does nothing to stop the brutality of the underground fights.  Abraham Lincoln Haines is a boxer with pro ambitions and by the time he realizes he’s being used, it may be too late.  Riley is a kid fighting to save his dad and his friends. He has an ultimate showdown, with the bigger, badder Dennehy.  By the end of the movie the relationship between Riley and Haines becomes a metaphor for the relationships between white and black in the United States — and together — Riley and Haines unite to overcome a greater enemy and by the end, races unite with a handshake … really.

Compared to Rocky, Gladiator earns a C-
Add its cheese factor and it earns a B


SIDE OUT (1990)

There was a summer in the early ’90s where this movie seemed to play on cable every day.  And, the reality is, that I can’t even count how many times I got sucked into the cheese factor and watched this flick.   As far as the grading goes, this movie has the greatest disparity in my grades.  It is the worst of the movies, but its self-aware cheesiness makes it highly enjoyable.  C. Thomas Howell is Monroe Clark, a law student from the midwest who has come to learn the seedy side of the legal world from his uncle so he can make some big money. Uncle Max (Terry Kiser fresh of his remarkable performance in Weekend at Bernie’s) sends the young Monroe on a basic errand to deliver an eviction notice to Zack Barnes (Peter Horton), an over the hill, volleyball bum who disappeared from the professional game after his final game was marred in scandal.  This is a story of salvation and mentorship.  Clark saves Barnes and Barnes guides Clark.  Over the course of a single summer, Barnes teaches Clark the ways of the force, or rather, the ways of the beach volleyball game.  And, together, they take on the world champs and find redemption.  The cheese of Side Out is pungent, but it tastes great!

Compared to Rocky, Side Out earns a D
Add its cheese factor and it earns a B+

by Brian Barsuglia