Anyone interested in seeing what kind of films James Spader started his career with should begin with Tuff Turf. The New Kids would show a darker side of Spader, but that film also covers the same territory. The story deals with a spoiled brat troublemaker (Spader) whose family is forced to move to a seedy area of L.A. from Connecticut after they somehow lose all their money. Back where he comes from, you can tell Spader was the toughest and coolest kid in school, but the tougher kids from his new school quickly have him on the run. After breaking up an attempted mugging by the school's toughest gang, Spader gets his butt kicked and his property destroyed numerous times. To make things worse of course, Spader falls in love with the gang leader's girlfriend (Richards), and she has feelings for him, too. Needless to say, you don't mess around with a gang leader's woman! Even if you are James Spader.
The film, though full of clichés as ancient as Romeo and Juliet, starts off with definite promise. The opening scene where Spader stops the mugging is exceptional. It's well-paced,well- filmed, and the action blocked perfectly. Every step the gang members take across the street as they pull out their weapons is well-choreographed. The film shifts gears somewhat as we see Spader adjust to his new school the following day. We are introduced to Robert Downey Jr.'s character, and he always livens things up in any film. His character is a bit of an enigma, to be certain. He quickly befriends Spader, yet he seems to know the gang well enough to borrow the gang leader's Camaro and things like that. He also plays drums for a pretty cool punk band we are introduced to a while later.
The tone of the film is wildly inconsistent. The second half hour is bewilderingly bad. Spader, Downey, Richards, and another chick take the gang leader's car for a joyride to some posh locations where presumably Spader feels more at home. The group invades a country club in an excruciatingly bad scene which culminates with Spader playing the piano for his new love interest while she sits atop the instrument and looks embarrassed. Spader's singing performance sounds a lot like the first out-take of a James Blunt recording session before he's warmed up. In other words, it sucks. Things get worse as the group moves to a trendy dance club and Richards does some kind of dirty dance while the entire venue stops to check her out. Simply put, the scene is horrible.
The acting is good enough. Spader and Downey just pretty much be themselves. Richards is certainly worth risking your life over. She's pretty, and she's cool enough to have Motley Crue pictures all over her bedroom walls! Paul Mones, who plays the gang leader is charismatic, but ultimately kind of wimpy. He really isn't too intimidating without his homies, and none of them look that tough, (excuse me...TUFF) either. Some of the music is a great example of the early 80s punk scene in L.A.. That Jack Mack and the Heart Attack band from the club is pretty lame, to say the least! No wonder some guy bombed the 1996 Olympics while they were playing a show! The Verdict: 5 of 10 stars. Basically for James Spader fans, only.
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