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Friday, August 8, 2003
Updated: May 31, 2:18 PM ET
Give these movies some love

By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

It's not just any week here on Page 2 ... it's "Underrated Week." Apparently, my editors were watching too much Discovery Channel; within a few weeks, they'll be making me write something for "Shark Week." Then again, gimmicks aren't a bad thing for the page, mainly because they give everyone on staff a chance to get involved: Writers, editors, interns, janitors, even Gino Bona.

Just so I wouldn't feel left out, they asked me to write about my favorite underrated movies. Twist my arm. Every other potential column can wait another week: the NBA offseason shuffle; Kobe breaking every Colorado Penitentiary League scoring record in the books; Grady Little being determined to make Pedro throw 125-plus pitches every game until his arm falls off; and the quote of the summer, and maybe my lifetime ... "Welcome to the OC, b----! This is how we do it in Orange County!"

PAGE 2's UNDERRATED WEEK
We celebrated the underrated and unappreciated all week at Page 2.

  • Most underrated current athletes
  • All-time underrated athletes
  • All-time Underrated teams
  • All-underrated everything
  • Underrated male celebrity
  • Underrated female celebrity
  • Who did we miss? Users' nominees
  • Anyway, to avoid a 50,000-word column -- and you know I love this stuff -- we needed a few guidelines to determine what makes for an "underrated" movie:

    Guideline No. 1: If it's playing 20 times a week on TNT, TBS, HBO17, TNN and everywhere else, it can't be considered "underrated." Cable stations beat movies like "Scarface," "Road House" and "Rounders" into the ground only because people keep watching them. It's that simple.

    Guideline No. 2: Cult movies and underrated movies aren't necessarily the same thing. People love "This Is Spinal Tap," "Dazed and Confused," "The Warriors" ... how could they possibly be considered underrated?

    Guideline No. 3: If a sequel was made, the original movie can't be considered underrated any more. Last time I checked, they don't make sequels for movies that people didn't like. There's a reason you never saw "Stolen Summer 2."

    Guideline No. 4: If they're re-making it, it can't be underrated anymore. Why would they re-make it then?

    Guideline No. 5: When in doubt, pick something with Sly Stallone in it.

    Guideline No. 6: Concentrate on movies that when you mention them to someone, they get excited about it, and both of you feel like you're in a special club. To me, that's the definition of an underrated movie. You love it, someone else loves it, and neither of you can believe that everyone else doesn't love it, too. It almost makes you angry.

    Guideline No. 7: Spend so much time agonizing over this final list that you're forced to run a second column, just for the movies that made honorable mention (click here for that column).

    Without further ado ...

    THE 12 MOST UNDERRATED MOVIES OF ALL TIME

    12. Silent Rage
    Imagine if you took "Halloween," moved it to Texas, added some karate and science fiction, then exchanged Chuck Norris for Donald Pleasance.

    Silent Rage

    That can't miss, right? Well, it happened. Chuck plays a Texas sheriff stuck with Flounder from "Animal House" as his partner, plus a girlfriend who's such a bad actress, you start rooting for her to get killed about 45 minutes into the movie (especially because she already had her nude scene). And he's chasing down a homicidal serial killer who's been brought back to life by the demonic Ron Silver ... and now he can't be killed, no matter how many times he falls out of buildings or gets run over by cars.

    I kid you not ... this is an unbelievable movie. It's just good enough that you're thinking, "Wow, this is pretty damn good," and then Chuck has to act, which pushes things to a whole other level. In one scene, he's so wooden that he actually catches fire. Have I mentioned there's karate? And Flounder from "Animal House"? Great ending, too. When I attended the "Ali" premiere two years ago, I sprung a "Silent Rage" question on Ron Silver, who quickly responded, "The guy who wouldn't die!" Even he loved this movie, and he got choked to death in it. Just see it.

    11. Kicking and Screaming
    A textbook indie film from the mid-'90s; for God's sake, Eric Stoltz and Parker Posey are on board. It's also the only movie to fully capture that surreal year after college -- when you're totally lost, you're bumming off your parents, you haven't let go of college yet, you have no idea where your life is headed, and you're just stuck in some sort of smoky, drunken haze. At the time, this movie really resonated with me: I felt that Grover (played by Josh Hamilton) was living my life. I guess everyone has one movie like that.

    Two strange footnotes: Hamilton was fantastic in this. I can't imagine anyone else playing Grover. And yet he never went on to do much; he co-starred in "Alive," made a few other indies, and that's about it. And writer-director Noah Baumbach never approached this level again, even though it was his first movie. I'm always mystified when that happens. It's like catching lightning in a bottle or something.

    Night Shift

    10. Eddie and the Cruisers
    Isn't it entertaining to watch the rise and fall of a band? Why isn't this captured in film more often? We eat up those "Behind the Music" shows ... why don't they make more movies about bands?

    This one featured an eclectic cast including Tom Berenger (right before he hit it big with "The Big Chill" and "Platoon"); Ellen Barkin (looking saucy and attainable); Joe Pantoliano (back when he was still a 'That Guy'); one of the Laurence Brothers (David Silver's adultering Dad on "90210"); and the immortal Michael Pare (the Chris Klein of his generation). It also featured a superb soundtrack fueled by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown band, who sounded just enough like Springsteen and the E Street Band that it worked. And the movie skips along for 95 minutes, right up to one of the best "Oh my God!" endings of all time.

    Great movie. You might be saying to yourself, "Wait a second, this can't make the list, they made a sequel to this."

    Well, "Eddie 2: Eddie Lives" never happened. You hear me? It never happened. I don't know what you're talking about.

    9. This Boy's Life
    Leo DeCaprio plays a fatherless kid growing up in the '50s, only to see his Mom re-marry a borderline psychopath determined to ruin Leo's will to live (played by Robert DeNiro, of all people, in one of his last memorable performances before he started pimping his name for big paychecks). There's no way this movie gets made without Leo and DeNiro; it's one of those subtle, likable scripts that Chris Moore would have selected for Project Greenlight and butchered to smithereens. Ninety-nine times out of 100, this type of movie ends up in the wrong hands.

    PAGE 2 AT THE MOVIES
    We thought you might want to check out some of Page 2's movie columns through the years, including last summer's big blowout, Page 2 Goes to the Movies, which included our top 20 sports movies of all time.

    Some of our other favorites:

  • The Sports Guy reviews "Seabiscuit"
  • The Sports Guy's Oscar Diary (2003)
  • Hoosiers 2: Lebron Goes to Hickory
  • The movies and the Super Bowl
  • "Rudy": Reel life vs. Real life
  • The Sports Guy's Holy Trilogy: "Karate Kid"
  • Which Rocky is the real champ?

  • Well, this was the 100th time. Leo and DeNiro bring the best out of each other. You forget this now, but Hubie Brown would have fawned over Leo's "tremendous upside potential" back in the day -- after "Gilbert Grape" and "This Boy's Life," this kid was the Hollywood version of LeBron James heading into his 20s. He couldn't miss. Then he strikes big with "Titanic," and suddenly he's hanging out with a Hollywood posse and chasing supermodels every night, and a couple of years pass, and the window closes on him. He just didn't want it.

    Hey, I'm not killing him. He'll still have a huge career. I'm sure he'll make a kajillion dollars; he might even be the next Hanks for all we know. I'm just saying that the Penny Hardaway-Junior Griffey warning signs are there, that's all. Rent "This Boy's Life," then rent "Gangs of New York." He was a better actor 10 years ago. This isn't good.

    8. Toy Soldiers
    Your textbook "Enjoyably Bad Movie." How 'bout this premise: South American terrorists infiltrate a posh New England boarding school ... and only Sean Astin and his maverick buddies can save the day? It's like someone in Hollywood was telling another producer, "You know, I liked 'Die Hard,' and I really liked 'Dead Poet's Society' ... hey, wait a second!"

    "Soldiers" actually moves along pretty well, with decent plot twists and three monkey wrenches to push things over the top. First of all, Sean Astin as the hero? At 5-foot-4? Really? Second, Lou Gossett Jr. plays the principal with "If this movie doesn't make $40 million and I don't get my two-percent of the gross, my house is going into escrow" vigor. And third, Wil Wheaton's turn as the hardened son of a Mafioso might be the most amazing casting misfire in Hollywood history. Has to be seen to be believed. It's like somebody lost a bet.

    Turner & Hooch

    7. Night Shift
    I'm stunned that people don't remember this one. Henry Winkler plays Chuck, the night watchman at a morgue (back when it was jolting to see him as any character other than the Fonz). He used to be the day watchman, but he lost his gig to the owner's loser son, a guy who watches the Flintstones and says things like "That Barney Rubble, what an actor!" (One of my favorite one-liners of the decade.)

    Enter Chuck's new co-worker Billy Blazejowski -- played by Michael Keaton, the role that put him on the map. One of the 10-to-12 funniest performances of my lifetime, but that's a story for another time. Within 30 minutes, they're running an escort service out of the morgue. Hilarity ensues. Keaton carries everything. Nobody else could have played Billy Blaze. Now he's starring in made-for-HBO movies.

    I don't get it. Keaton and Hanks were neck and neck for about a decade, and then Hanks took it to the next level . . . and I'm not sure what happened to poor Keaton. They should have had one of those Bird-Magic rivalries. It's a mystery.

    Speaking of Hanks ...

    6. Turner and Hooch
    As you know, Hanks has three Oscars on his resume, and he clinched the title of "Most successful actor of my generation" about five years ago. He could croak right now and he'd still be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And you know this. That's why you might think I'm nuts with the following proclamation:

    Sudden Death

    As an actor, he peaked in "Turner and Hooch."

    Look, any good actor can play an embattled sergeant in a Spielberg film, or a sensitive guy dying of AIDS, or a borderline imbecile who always lands on his feet. Maybe they wouldn't have done those roles quite as well as Hanks, but the movies wouldn't have totally suffered without him. But how many actors could have carried a movie where they're on stakeout with a dog? Seriously, name someone else who could straddle the line between "funny" and "poignant" when they're doing just about every scene with a slobbering dog?

    You know the saying "Made chicken salad out of chicken (bleep)"? That was Hanks in "Hooch." Somehow, this movie was entertaining as hell. It shouldn't have even been released. I'll bet anything that he remembers this movie just as fondly as anything else he's done -- he was like Moses Malone carrying a crummy Rockets team to the '81 Finals in this one.

    5. Fast Break
    Deserves and demands its own column. And if you haven't seen it ... well, you'll have to wait for the column.

    4. Sudden Death
    When the subject of "Enjoyably Bad Classics" comes up, the usual suspects spring to mind: "Road House," "Point Break," "Cocktail," "Under Siege," "Speed" ... and yet nobody ever mentions this Van Damme classic. Maybe it's because it arrived at the tail end of the "Die Hard Ripoff" Phase -- when every action movie centered around the hero being thrust into an impromptu dilemma, then having to save (fill in one of the following: country, city, building, plane, train, bus) in a remarkably small window of time. So there was a bias against it.

    Saturday Night Fever

    And that's fine. The movie takes place during Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals in Pittsburgh, using the actual players and everything. Van Damme has to stop Powers Boothe from blowing up the stadium at the end of the game. In other words, the game can't end. We need lots of overtimes. And Van Damme's doing the "John McLane" routine in the stadium - ducking the bad guys, trying to find the bomb, beating up people, the usual stuff. Par for the course.

    Except for one thing ...

    Somewhere in the middle of the movie, when he's avoiding the bad guys, Van Damme sneaks into the Pittsburgh locker room and notices the unconscious Penguins goalie. Within three minutes, he strips the guy of his gear and puts the goalie's equipment on himself. Then he skates out for the third period, keeps the Penguins in the game, robs someone on a breakaway, and starts a bench-clearing brawl.

    (Go back and read the last paragraph again.)

    3. Saturday Night Fever
    Go figure, this breaks two of my guidelines: They made a sequel from it; and it was far too successful to be considered "underrated," at least in the traditional sense.

    Just One of the Guys

    Just hear me out. For one thing, Travolta gives the most underappreciated big-time performance since John Cazale (as Fredo) in "Godfather 2." I always thought actors should be judged by one crucial question: Could anyone else have pulled off the part of Tony Manero? You need the swagger, you need the Pacino looks, you need the Brooklyn toughness, and during those dance scenes, you need to take everyone for a ride. And even if you're a double instead of a home run, the movie dies.

    So Travolta comes in, nails the part, carries the movie on his back, makes the dance scenes part of the Pop Culture Pantheon, revives the Disco Era and sends it into another stratosphere, and spearheads the definitive period piece of the late-'70s. Has there ever been a movie so closely identified with an era as "Fever" with the late-'70s? And does any of this happen without Travolta? Of course not.

    That's why it made perfect sense when the Academy gave the "Best Actor" Oscar in 1977 to ... Richard Dreyfuss. For "The Goodbye Girl." I wish I were making this up.

    Of course, "Fever" wasn't just about Travolta, or the Bee Gees, or those spectacular dance scenes that still hold up after all these years (and nobody hates dance scenes more than me). It somehow manages to be depressing and uplifting at the same time: Four losers in Brooklyn who won't amount to anything -- and they know this -- but they have this sanctuary on Saturday nights, a disco parlor, the one place they can shine. There's a wonderful movie in here. Everyone forgets this, just like they forget about Travolta.

    Now doesn't that sound like an underrated movie?

    2. Just One of the Guys
    This is a tough one. Comedy Central shows this at least once a day, which means it shouldn't be considered "underrated." And Billy Zabka was involved, so there was some major star power here. On the other hand, the star of the movie (Joyce Hyser) never worked again, and her little brother in the movie -- a full-fledged genius, and one of the finest comedic actors of his time, Mr. Billy Jacoby -- has been relegated to doing commercials. So how well-known could this movie be?

    Here's the plot: Joyce can't get any PT for her high school paper, so she does what any self-respecting student would do. She transfers schools during the second semester of her senior year; cuts off her hair; enrolls as a male student, only tells two people (her brother and her best friend); spends the next three months lying to everyone, including her boyfriend; and she does this because it could make for a good 1,000-word feature for her old paper. Certainly logical.

    You would think her parents would notice, but ... well, we don't see them. I mean, ever. (Just a classic '80s device here: "The parents would only get in the way of the plot, so let's send them to Europe and hope nobody notices.") And Joyce gets into a ton of misunderstandings and near-disasters, and she ends up falling for her best friend at the new school, eventually telling him the truth in a prom night scene which includes him screwing up Cyndi Lauper's name and uttering the immortal quote, "Where do you get off having boobs?????" She ends up getting her prize-winning story, as well as a new boyfriend. The end.

    So was this underrated just because of the gratuitous topless scene at the end? Nope. It's because of the little brother, Buddy. One of the great characters of that entire decade -- just as good as Ferris, Bender, Guido and everyone else -- and now he's doing commercials. I don't get it. There should have been a spinoff. There should have been a sequel. Something. And yet Buddy was never seen again. I will never figure this out as long as I live.

    1. The Last American Virgin
    What a title. Maybe one of the best four or five ever, right up there with "Fatal Attraction" and "The Longest Yard." You should also know that "Virgin" featured the best soundtrack of '80s songs other than maybe "Valley Girl," as well as one of the all-time great "teenagers trying to get laid at a brothel" scenes. And it has some legitimately funny moments.

    SportsNation
    Whoa! Even The Sports Guy left a few of your favorites off of his list. We asked your for your additions, here's what you had to say.

    More importantly, there's a remarkable love triangle here featuring a lovestruck high schooler losing his dream girl (the girl from "Better off Dead") to his playboy buddy, who knocks her up, then dumps her, leaving Lovestruck Guy to pay for the abortion. She moves in with him -- because his parents are away, since this is an '80s movie and all -- and eventually he gets some pity sex out of it.

    But you know what's coming ...

    With a clean bill of health, the girl goes back to the scumbag who knocked her up in the end, so the movie ends with Lovestruck Guy driving by himself, staring through the windshield, tears streaming down his face, as James Ingram's "Just Once" blares in the background. The lesson, as always: Women are purely and simply evil. And I wish I could tell you more, but this movie isn't on DVD, it isn't on VHS, and it's never on TV. Now that, my friends, is an underrated movie.

    Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and he's a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live. Don't forget his list of movies that deserve honorable mention for most underrated.