Blue Chips(Paramount Home Entertainment, 3.29.2005)
William Friedkin: The Paramount Years. Some day someone should write a book about that topic. For now, I'm writing a review about it. Back in 1990, William Friedkin directed The Guardian, an unwatchable horror film that suggested the once reliable auteur had completely lost his touch. In 1991, he married Paramount bigwig Sherry Lansing and, in the 14 years since, he has directed 4 high profile, commercially disappointing, critically reviled star vehicles for the studio: Blue Chips, Jade, Rules of Engagement, and The Hunted. Now, I don't want to suggest that nepotism was involved but...
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate a good Friedkin film as much as the next guy. Hell, I even liked Cruisng. But there's something seriously wrong with this whole Paramount "arrangement." For one, it produced Jade. In fact, rumor has it that Sherry Lansing asked that film's notorious screenwriter, Joe Eszterhas, to publicly agree with her choice of director, while he was actually complaining about nepotism behind closed doors.
But what about Blue Chips? Is it any good? Well, it's not that bad. Of Friedkin's nepotism-era films, it's certainly better than Jade or The Hunted (how could it not be?). Yes, it bears all the trademarks of a washed-up director (half-assed visual style, minimal risk or personality) but it's watchable and occasionally quite entertaining.
In the basketball scenes, Friedkin's documentary background serves him well -- I'm sure that's how Lansing got him the job -- and the film has a surprising skepticism about college basketball. In an era of puzzling reverence toward athletes of any kind, particularly in sports movies, Blue Chips' refreshingly cynical take on college sports is cause for celebration (and, in all likelihood, its box office failure).
Unfortunately, like Islands in the Stream, the skill of the lead actor -- in this case, virtuoso super-actor Nick Nolte -- draws unwanted attention to the weak supporting cast, many of whom are well-known basketball personalities, struggling to function as actors. Shaquille O'Neal is particularly bad, equating "acting" with indecipherable line readings and annoyingly ingratiating facial expressions. Does he really have to smile like that in every scene?
As usual, character actress Mary McDonnell is a saving grace, radiating good-natured intelligence, in spite of the limitations of her role. Screenwriter Ron Shelton wrote her a less substantial but equally charming version of the role he gave Susan Sarandon in the vastly superior Bull Durham. The difference? He didn't direct Blue Chips. Maybe Lansing should have married Ron Shelton. In any case, McDonnell steals the show.
Yet again, Paramount's anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is good but the features are non-existent. Still, it's an inexpensive disc and an engaging, if undistinguished, sports film. -- Jonathan Doyle