So they told me that James Spader and Robert Downey, Jr., in their misspent youth, once played semipunk delinquent BFFs. They did not have to tell me more.
Tuff Turf (dir. Fritz Kiersch, and now I want to know why I don’t know this name already) is sort of John Hughes high-school class-war romance (only not annoying like John Hughes movies always eventually are), in the Reseda version of the school from Class of ’84. Gangs prowl and switchblades bristle, but instead of CO84‘s howling anger and despair we get sweet love and romance from marriage-minded Frankie (a dimpled, aching, painfully hopeful Kim Richards, doing an incredible job with an underwritten part) and ex-preppie Morgan (lol James Spader, I thought man-Morgans were extinct by the ’80s?). Spader is at the height of his “favorite of a bad Roman emperor” chisel-faceity, Downey Jr. is twitchy and giggly and instantly smitten, and ethnics are the enemy. You can tell that Morgan and Frankie have hearts of gold because they are the blondest people on screen. The ’80s!
But no, let’s do this, Tuff Turf has a lot to love.
# LOL RDjr character goes all Jonathan-and-David on Morgan. Guess the scriptwriter didn’t have time to explain why he’s so immediately and completely ride-or-die about this random other dude. I would love to see somebody answer this plot problem, just once, with, “God told me that you and not Nick would be the next criminal king of Random High School.”
# Every outfit the girls wear in this movie is a thing I wish I’d worn. Why do we not dress like the ’80s at all times? God, just glorious, truly truly truly outrageous.
# Ooh, creepy miniscene where the black security guard is treated as a buffoon for daring to interfere with white rulebreaking.
# CARS such fast and screechy evil CARS
# “This isn’t Connecticut, Mom! Nobody has insurance!”
# Ridiculous dance club scene with the Jim Carroll Band plus RDJr (!?!) basically ruined for me bc it doubles as a way to teach boys how to manhandle a girl until she likes you. I know the kids here do a lot of stuff nobody would really do, like Frankie’s dancing on tables and really everything in this movie, but this is too close to reality. And especially given that the movie’s right about to get super intense about Frankie’s autonomy and the evils of male violence against women, it’s disingenuous.
# The extended sequence where they crash the country club is the most wonderful thing in the world. Somehow manages to create totally ingenuous, endearing wealth-porn, just innocent awe at the absurd excess of it all. “Don’t let them fool you. Of course size matters. This is the ’80s!” (DRINK.) And that “size matters” speech only improves from there!
# Frankie: “Nah, I’ll probably just get married. You don’t need college for that!” Given the way her character arc (and her family’s) plays out, I’m not sure we’re meant to agree or sympathize, but I agreed and sympathized for all I was worth.
# Whoooooaaaa I didn’t know you could imply that in the ’80s! I figure this movie was rated R, but even so, my goodness.
# I would die of embarrassment if my parents said, “Go easy on yourself.” That said, I’ve never responded to getting beat up in the locker room by saying, “I screwed up,” so maybe Spader times call for Spader measures. No, idk, ideologically I’m opposed to the positive-self-talk sincerity of this father-son scene but the Ace of Spader really sold it to me.
# You take wealth seriously by letting it go. Ditto your virginity.
# You can say this for the melting-pot criminals: They play “People Who Died” while they’re trying to find and maybe kill teens and old men.
# I haven’t been talking much about the violence in this movie but it has been pretty intense from the start, and here’s where we swerve into full-on Action Thriller Bronson Highway. “I’ll kill her first,” the jilted boyfriend says; and you should believe them when they say that.
# The Action Spader! sequence lasts way too long for my taste, but presumably the actual ’80s teens who watched this were too busy conceiving Millennials in the back row to care. The very end is quite jarring though. Violence, kidnapping, death, trauma, party!
Overall verdict: I was born to love this.