Anthony Michael Hall breaks from his ‘nerdy’ screen persona, perfected in 1980s classics from John Hughes, to play a ‘cool’ jock in Johnny Be Good. Hall looks like he’s hit the weights and embraced the opportunity for growth as a leading man while hamming it up with his co-stars Paul Gleason and Robert Downey Jr.. It’s Downey Jr. who is given the chance to showcase his wit and hyper-active verbal bantering, and he seems to clearly be enjoying playing opposite his real-life buddy, Hall. Critically derived on its release, I saw this in theaters for my 9th birthday, Johnny Be Good is a hidden treasure for connoisseurs of the ‘Brat Pack’ sub-genre.
Ashcroft High School’s star quarterback Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) is the most heavily sought after college recruit in the nation. Dozens of recruiters attend his games and surround his home in the hopes of persuading Walker to attend and play for their respective universities. Offering everything from women to kickbacks two of the countries’ biggest football factories compete to get Walker on their rosters.
Unbeknownst to the football phenom is that he’s under active investigation by an NCAA official (Robert Downey Sr.). Walker’s inflated ego and irresponsible behavior causes a concern with his immediate family members. Before long a rift develops between Johnny and his girlfriend Georgia (Uma Thurman). He’s also got Coach Hisler (Paul Gleason) blackmailing him to commit to a school not of his choosing. But when the time comes for the golden boy to sign his letter of intent. Johnny must decide the direction of his future.
Johnny Be Good was always unfairly criticized as the un-official nail in the coffin for the ‘brat pack’ era. In fairness films like Ally Sheedy’s Maid to Order or the Judd Nelson starrer From the Hip truly retired the pack. The critical scorn heaped on this film seems to have been over the soft-touch given to its subject matter. A 1980s football comedy is not the place to search for a deep introspective look at the often illegal practices of recruiting high school kids to play college sports. Look for Robert Downey Sr. as the recruiting investigator tailing Johnny. One of the film’s great inside jokes: Downey Sr. sitting bored at a drive-inn calls one of his own films “Shit.”
Director: Bud Smith
Stars: Anthony Michael Hall, Robert Downey, Jr., Paul Gleason
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