Johnny Be Good

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When talking about The Breakfast Club, the subject of which of the five teens we most closely identified with often comes up. I was definitely closest to the Anthony Michael Hall character. He was pretty much the resident geek of the brat pack in the 80’s, which made it more than a bit surprising when in 1988 he showed up as a star high school quarterback. Really!?! I mean I understand not wanting to be typecast and all, but that’s a bit of a leap. Robert Downey Jr is along for the ride, too. Plus we are “introduced” to someone called Uma Thurman in Johnny Be Good.

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Hall plays Johnny Walker (Really? Johnny Walker?), a small town high school quarterback being courted by many different colleges. A crowd of recruiters are pretty much camped out in front of Johnny’s house, wearing ugly suits that should be illegal in at least 46 states. Meanwhile, Johnny’s coach (Paul Gleason) is working out a deal to get Johnny to play for Piermont University, for which he will he get the head coaching job. Johnny’s best pal is the team’s slightly inept back-up QB, Leo (Downey) and he has an impossibly gorgeous girlfriend named Georgia (Thurman). The bad side of that, though, is that Georgia’s overly protective dad is the local sheriff (Marshall Bell).

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Johnny is determined to figure out where to go to school on his own, though. He pays a visit to “Old Tex” where they wine and dine him and several other young players. Johnny even ends up being dragged into a sexual encounter on the 50 yard line of the football stadium with (unknown to him) the recruiter’s wife. Johnny then visits a school in California, which even goes as far as to give Leo a fancy Jeep in an effort to get him to convince his friend to go west. Soon, Johnny finds himself in some sticky situations as the various schools use dirty tricks to get him to sign with them.

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Okay, so Anthony Michael Hall absolutely had the right to look beyond the geek roles he was getting earlier in his career. Nobody wants to get stuck in one type of role. I get all that, but this part just doesn’t work for him. He played “geeks” in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and even Vacation…but at least all those characters are likable. Dare I say, this character betrays all of us who identified with Hall’s characters in those other films because he’s so detestable. Johnny Walker is smug, he’s a jerk, and he’s not even smart enough to keep his hands off other girls when his girlfriend is 18-year old Uma Thurman!! Expand what kind of roles you play by all means, but play a character we can like!

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This is a shenanigans movie. It’s full of characters doing things which we are supposed to find amusing, but which would get them arrested, or at least suspended from school, in the real world. In the opening football game sequence Johnny tries to orchestrate a touchdown for his pal Leo by having one of of the cheerleaders shed her panties and do flips on the sidelines in order to distract the opposing team. This doesn’t make us like our film’s title character, it just establishes him as a pig before we’re even ten minutes into the film.

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There’s just very little for the viewer to get behind in this film. Even with Anthony Michael Hall being one of my favorite of the 80’s Brat Packers, I just don’t buy him in this role. Based on this film you’d never believe that Robert Downey Jr would go on to be the biggest star out of this cast. He comes across like an eleven year old who spends 90 minutes screaming, “I wanna be a movie star, too!” Uma Thurman, however, is one of the film’s few bright spots. She’s beyond adorable in this film. The sight of her hurling a raw chicken at Anthony Michael Hall’s head may be one of the sexiest things I’ve seen in a movie all year. She’s a bit underused, though. She really should have a meatier part in this story and play a bigger role in helping Johnny come back to earth after being schmoozed by all these colleges. Paul Gleason is also fun playing the jerk coach, ‘cuz Gleason is a master at playing jerks. Jennifer Tilly is also fun in a brief part as the coach’s ditzy wife.

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Perhaps I’m a little bit biased against this film. I mean, when I was in high school I was a Farmer Ted, not a Johnny Walker. This is a film that wants us to be charmed by a character who reminds us of all those high school football players who made our lives more than a bit miserable. To pour salt on the wound they have him played by an actor who played many roles that we were able to identify with. Arrow to the heart, man.  Arrow to the heart.

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