Film: All the Right Moves
Release date: Oct. 21, 1983
Tag line: "He has everything at stake. He can't afford to lose. He's got to make all the right moves."
Box office: $17.2 million against a $5.6 million budget ($44.7 million vs. $14.5 million in 2020 dollars)
The plot: Credit where it's due -- this film has the most evolved view toward the proper role of high school football as any film I've ever seen. Stefan Djordjevic is a star cornerback whose college dreams ride on Friday night's game with Walnut Heights. And make no mistake, Stefan knows exactly what that means.
"This is my way out, Friday night," he says. "I got to go to the best school with the best engineering program. Djordjevices have been humping steel out of this town for years. Grandpa, Pop, Greg. It's about time one of us had something to say about the stuff after it's been made. That's gonna be me."
Pressed later by a recruiter -- we'll get to him later -- about his prospects as a corner, young Stef keeps his heels planted firmly on the Pennsylvania soil.
"There's not much call for a 5'10" white cornerback in the NFL. I know I can do the job in college, though.... I'm looking to trade football for an education and still be able to walk. I'm going to be an engineer."
The film builds toward the Walnut Heights game, and it's clear Ampipe enters as a heavy underdog. Walnut Heights is the prototypical rich school, undefeated and ranked third in the state, and Ampipe is... not. "They've got a swim team, a tennis team," Coach Nickerson says at the pep rally. "They've got a golf team for boys and girls."
Walnut Heights is powered by a straight-ahead running game charged by their star running back, Anderson. Coach Nickerson and his one assistant devise a daring 6-2 alignment to stop him. "If it works, we're geniuses. If it doesn't, what do we got to lose?" "Our lives," his assistant says. "Right," Nickerson says. "So let's make it work."
Ampipe is trailing 10-7 in the third quarter when Stefan steps in front of a pass and takes it all the way to the house, putting the Bulldogs in front 14-10.
They're still clinging to that lead in the fourth when, in a downpour, Walnut Heights drives inside the Ampipe 10-yard line. The Bulldog defense is well positioned until Stefan commits a pass interference penalty, using the same faulty technique Coach Nickerson warned him about earlier in the week. Even still, 6-2 Stack Monster comes through, and the Ampipe defense forces a turnover on downs at the goal line. All Ampipe needs to do is expire the final 12 seconds and the Bulldogs have the upset of the year in Pennsylvania high school football.
Rather than a quarterback sneak, a series heaves out of bounds or even taking a safety, Nickerson calls a running play and Ampipe running back Salvucci loses the sopping wet ball in the exchange. Walnut Heights recovers the ball in the muck and wins the game, 16-14.
Now, I must stop here to tell you that All the Right Moves is, like almost all movies, a product of its time. And that means this movie is extremely 1983 -- the film leads with a theme song that shares the title of the movie, all the characters (male and female) are wearing Mom Jeans, and the screenplay climaxes with a showdown between the protagonist and the lead authority figure in his life. That means, as Nickerson goes around ripping Bulldog after Bulldog for "quitting" on the team, it falls on Stefan to stand up to him. "You quit," he tells Nickerson.
Nickerson kicks Stefan off the team, and any hope of rejoining the team is lost when Stefan is caught up among a group of Ampipe townies vandalizing the Nickerson home after the game.
And that's pretty much the end of the football, just past the halfway point.
All the Right Moves is not so much a football movie as it is an attempt at using football to tell an allegory about the declining of the blue-collar way of life in Pennsylvania steel country. (Which, when you consider this movie is almost 40 years old, is amazing when you stop and thinking about how long we've been waxing poetic about The Way Things Used To Be.)
As Stef tries to find his way in life without a spot on the Ampipe football team, his brother Greg gets laid off at the steel mill, his best friend Brian passes on a football scholarship to USC to marry his pregnant girlfriend, and Salvucci is arrested for armed robbery. Worst of all, Stefan has to confront his girlfriend Lisa's feelings, primarily her resentment that she'll never get to live her dream of studying music in college while Stefan gets to leave Ampipe because of a dumb game.
Except Stefan can't leave, because it comes to light that Nickerson is blackballing his (former) hothead corner to any college recruiter that swings by.
When Stefan apologizes to Mrs. Nickerson for his part in vandalizing their home after the Walnut Heights game, Nickerson is overcome with guilt and rescues Stefan from a life at the steel mill by presenting him with scholarship papers to join him at Cal Poly.
And that's how the movie ends, with a triumphant Stefan and Lisa dancing their way out of the generational trap of life in a declining blue-collar industry.
Was Nickerson a good coach? 6-2 Stack Monster was an undeniable success, but the decision to run the ball at the goal line was a reckless disaster. Even Bosko, Ampipe's useless drunk, recognized Nickerson should have just taken a safety. Being a successful head coach is delegating responsibility, and Nickerson failed to realize he was in over his head running the offense and the defense.
He did nail the pregame speech, though.
Does Tom Cruise play a convincing football player? I have to admit I'm surprised he didn't demand to play running back considering all the filmed running he's done over the course of his career.
But, yeah, he's not bad.
Is there any typical Hollywood sports instability? We never learn who, exactly, is recruiting Stefan, and apparently the film's writers didn't know, either. Stefan refers to the man on his father's couch as "Mr. Jones," and this Mr. Jones dresses like he's there to sell Mr. Djordjevic a term life insurance policy.
Stefan claims to be 5'10" in the film, but Google lists him at 5'7". Either way, we're supposed to believe the dude standing next to him has an offer to play linebacker at USC.
Also, maybe Walnut Heights happens to be the Dallas Cowboys of Western Pennsylvania and wears white for home games, or maybe the writers just aren't aware the home team wears dark jerseys.
What's the lesson here? Football is a tool to fuel your education, and it's especially important if you're from a Pennsylvania blue-collar family amid the early-80s recession because life there is a trap. Even still, it's worth to stay true to yourself and tell off your coach when the situation calls for it.
Should I show this to my players? Well, it's rated R and it's quite a horny R, complete with a nude scene. All told, I give it a solid "Meh."