Sunday, October 28, 2007

No. 8 - Semi Tough

Semi Tough was marketed as a football comedy in the vein of The Longest Yard, but football is merely a backdrop in this film. Semi Tough, much to the chagrin of fans of Dan Jenkins' best selling novel, focuses on the trappings of celebrity more than gridiron activities. It also explores some of the more dubious spiritual movements of the 70's, such as est and pyramid power.

Kris Kristofferson plays Shake Tiller, a wide receiver who undergoes a Cat Stevens-like conversion experience to become an adherent of the est-like BEAT movement. Burt Reynolds is Billy Clyde Pucket, a good old boy quarterback who is skeptical about the efficacy of BEAT. Billy Clyde attends the two-day BEAT seminar, in which potential adherents are verbally abused by founder Werner Erhart (Burt Convy, brilliant) and are prohibited from using restroom facilities (sample dialogue -- a woman stands up during the seminar and proudly says that she just peed in her pants). But Billy Clyde came prepared -- he has attached a "motorist's friend" to his ankle inside his pants. Billy Clyde's presence at the seminar, and his seeming conversion to BEAT, serve to disrupt Barbara Jane Bookman (Jill Clayburgh) from getting brainwashed during the seminar. Billy Clyde's fake conversion also serves to disrupt the upcoming marriage between Shake and Barbara Jane -- which is fine with Billy Clyde, because he wants Barbara Jane all to himself.

Alternative religious beliefs hover around Semi-Tough like dandelion dust. Even the team's profane owner, Big Ed (Robert Preston) is not immune to all this New Age quackery (and this is before the term "New Age" even existed). Big Ed is an adherent of "move-a-genics," which requires him to crawl around on his office floor like an infant.

Director Michael Ritchie, who previously poked fun at Little League in Bad News Bears, beauty pageants in Smile and politics in The Candidate, has lots of fun in Semi Tough with the celebrity culture of the 70's. The emphasis is not on football but on the power of celebrity. After all, Shake's fame is exploited by BEAT, just as Billy Clyde is paid big bucks to write a tell-all autobiography (the publisher tells him to focus on substantive issues, such as "whether there are more homosexuals on the offense or the defense").

After Semi Tough, mind control cults became more and more prevalent. In 1978, a year after Semi Tough came out, there was the tragic fiasco at Jonestown. The past 30 years have seen the rampant growth of New Age belief systems, with Scientology serving as the ultimate example (and they use celebrities to tout their religion, just like BEAT did with their celebrity members). What would Billy Clyde make of all this madness?

No comments: