Reviewed by Rhonda Gilbertson
Rating: 9.5 Beans
magine you're a Hollywood suit in the mid 80s, looking for a formula for a hit. You've got an inkling that sports may be the way to go, tapping into our national passion for them, but which sport to choose? How about....gymnastics???
Yes, gymnastics makes a different choice than the usual as far as sports movies are concerned, and maybe a film about tumbling could have been interesting. But not in the hands of Albert Magnoli, who also directed Purple Rain. No, American Anthem is directed as if it were an video on MTV, with lots of flashing lights, hip music, and rapid-fire editing cuts so that no shot stays on the screen for more than 1.8 seconds.
You can probably imagine Magnoli's excitement when he managed to land Mitch Gaylord for the lead role. Good old Mitch won a gold medal in the 84 Olympics in (what else?) gymnastics, so Magnoli must have congratulated himself on getting someone with sex appeal and natural talent to play the largest part in his film. All well and fine, save for the fact that Mitch couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. To give you an idea of just how badly Mitch acts, in his most recent film role (Sexual Outlaws, 1996) he wasn't even allowed to SPEAK! Yes, even though he had the lead role in Sexual Outlaws, his character was rendered mute for no comprehensible reason other than to save the viewing audience from one more aspect of his pathetic acting. Already you can see we're heading for disaster at a more rapid rate than the Titanic heading for the iceberg!
So we have Mitch playing Steve Tevere, a talented gymnast who seems to have some trouble with motivation. We're led to believe that this stems from his highly dysfunctional home life and his abusive father, but Magnoli is so reluctant to explore these themes that we're just left wondering exactly what the kid's problem is. About the only hints we get are references to Dad breaking his arm, little brother leaving the scene of an argument between Mom and Dad, and Mom driving away in her pickup.
Well, nothing motivates young men so much as the presence of an attractive young woman, so enter Julie Lloyd, played by Janet Jones (A League of Their Own, A Chorus Line, Mrs. Wayne Gretzky), the new arrival at Steve's gym and maybe its next star. Julie seems to have a lot of problems as well, though as far as I could tell, her biggest had to do with her hatred for the floor exercise music her coach chose for her. Oh, to have the woes of Julie Lloyd as my own! There's also a bit about a handicapped friend of hers who wants to write music for her routines, but how she knows him and how he was injured are never really definitely settled on, either.
So that leaves the only bit of plot we have left, gymnastics! There are a few competitions, but we're not too sure what their significance is, until the last one, which we're told is going to select the members of the next Olympic team. The scenes at the competitions could have been enjoyable if it weren't for the flashing strobe lights in the background, which are supposed to represent camera flashes, I suppose. They're utterly annoying and distracting as all hell. Then there's the MTV editing style, which just gives you no spatial reference whatsoever, and leads to vertigo in the end. What fun!
Of course, the ending is a happy one, with Steve and Julie on the winner's podium, a loving couple, Steve's proud father in the audience, his family intact for the time being, and his future bright with possibilities. If only it had been that way in real life. A quick perusal of the Internet Movie Database will reveal that neither Mitch Gaylord's, Janet Jones', nor Albert Magnoli's careers took off after this disaster. I, for one, am not going to go into mourning with this knowledge. I've done my time. I came, I saw American Anthem, it serves them all right!
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