Tuff Turf (dir. Fritz Kiersch) 112 min
Release Date: January 11, 1985
Cast: James Spader, Kim Richards, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Mones, Matt Clark
Writer(s): Jette Rinck, Greg Collins O’Neill & Murray Michaels
Synopsis: Morgan Hiller (Spader) is new in town and immediately pisses off a street gang comprised of students at his new high school. Then he falls in love with the gang leader’s girlfriend and things get way stupider.
Review: The 80s were full of movies about kids moving to a new school and getting bullied by psychotic, homicidal gangs. In 1985, James Spader starred in two of them. Released just a week apart, Tuff Turf and The New Kids saw Spader play both sides of the coin, first as the misunderstood loner in a new town and second as a peroxide-coifed peckerwood with a boundless appetite for fucking with people. We’ll get into The New Kids tomorrow, but that’s the better film overall and definitely the more dynamic role for Spader. He’s making the best out of a bad situation with this one, leaning on a movie star charm that was still being developed and single-handedly propping up a totally stupid love story involving Kim Richards. The future star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is a vacant, boring doormat and the fact that anyone would pursue her in a way that put their own life at risk is totally ludicrous. It’s like the screenwriters forgot to write an interesting character and said, “fuck it, we’re good, we’ve got the girl from Escape to Witch Mountain!”
So you’ve got this love story set amidst a story of class conflict, with Morgan (Spader) moving from Connecticut to the mean streets of Los Angeles. Frankie (Richards) lives in the slums and dates a criminal named Nick (Paul Mones), the leader of the gang that hates Morgan TO DEATH. But the movie is also a pseudo-musical, with Jim Carroll (The Basketball Diaries) playing an extended set—Robert Downey Jr. is his drummer!—that sparks a synchronized dance sequence. And THEN they crash a country club where Morgan serenades Frankie with a po-faced love song about walking at night (whatever). And THEN they go to nightclub where a 10-piece band plays Blues Brothers-style tunes, which prompts Frankie to dance across the entire club. In the course of that dance, she does the splits and slides down someone’s back. SHE SLIDES DOWN A HUMAN BEING WHILE DOING THE SPLITS.
Honestly, there’s no figuring this movie on any level. It has Ferris Beuller-style shenanigans, but ends with Spader getting into a knock-down, drag out fight where Robert Downey Jr. helps out by siccing junk yard dogs on people (one of them chases a guy as he runs through a plate glass window, presumably to his death). The fight eventually ends with Spader knocking the villain through a factory railing—possibly to HIS death—and then were taken back to the Blues Brothers club where the singers joke about Frankie’s weird dance from earlier and the movie just fucking ends.
This is all from the director of Children of the Corn, a movie that at least has the decency not to include any synchronized dance scenes amongst the ritual sacrifice. The only interesting thing you can say about this movie now is its Avengers: Age of Ultron connection, made even stranger by the fact that there’s graffiti on one of the walls that reads, “The New Avengers.” It’s like a terrible, tone deaf prophecy that slipped away into the sands of time. And rightly so.
Better Off Dead or The Sure Thing?: Better off dead.
Next Up: The New Kids