When it’s late at night and I can’t sleep, I often wonder about the important things in life; the things that really matter. I wonder about whether ‘Kickboxer’ will ever be uncut again and available on DVD or if Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone will answer my prayers and team up for ‘Tango and Cash 2: Bigger, Badder and Bloodier’. But there is one thought that has haunted me for a long time…What would happen if the movies ‘The Karate Kid’ and ‘Savage Streets’ decided they wanted to make love and have a baby? What 80’s awesomeness would a fiend like me hope these two films create? Well there is only one possible answer to this…’Tuff Turf.
The storyline is something that has been used a lot in films, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s a boring take on the matter. Here we have Morgan(James Spader) who is a smart kid, plays by his own rules, and doesn’t have too many friends. He moves to a new town and encounters the school bullies, and just so happens to fall head over heels in love for the long haired barbie, Frankie(Kim Richards), who happens to be dating king of the bullies and ultimate douche-bag Nick(Paul Mones). While Morgan is not busy hiding his boner, I mean feelings for Frankie, he is also making friends with the greasy, and possibly drugged up drummer Jimmy(Robert Downey Jr). Jimmy is a reliable pal, who tells Morgan how it is on Nick’s turf and how he needs to stop overstepping his boundaries with Frankie. Throughout the film we see Morgan constantly try to woo Frankie, and while she may seem like an ice maiden on the outside, it is revealed that this shallow person actually does have a soft heart…And the only way that Morgan could get into her heart is by doing what any normal person would do; Crash a posh country club, get on the piano and sing a song called ‘I Walk the Night’…and with lyrics such as ‘I feel your face, I hear your eyes. I know the nights that you’ve cried, but we still survive’, who wouldn’t fall for his charms
Now you are probably thinking, ‘This sounds so lame and cheesy’; and you may be right about the cheesy part, but hear me out. While it has some cringeworthy parts, you cannot help but love what director, Fritz Kiersh was trying to do. He managed to balance drama, comedy, and violence extremely well considering some of the cheesy scenes in the film. This is a lot of fun, and it doesn’t try to preach to you the importance of it’s themes, it just makes them aware in your psyche and you can do what you like with them. While a lot of people out there do love 80’s teen flicks like ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’, they tend to pick and choose which of these film has credibility and which has just plain cheese. The 80’s was a wonderfully cheesy era of film, regardless of the genre and I’d say in just about every 80’s movie there may be at LEAST one slightly cringeworthy moment. The 70’s films, regardless of genre had more of an intense feel to them and a grimy appeal which didn’t seem to care if it offended you; those kind of films wanted to wake their audiences up. Whereas the 80’s had a lot more to do with putting a strong sense of emotion out there and conveying it to the audience. Films like ‘Tuff Turf’ were just as relevant to the 1980’s as ‘Sixteen Candles’ was.
‘Tuff Turf’ is a great example of a teen flick which just has all the elements that has made the genre cliche. Firstly you have the unattainable popular girl which the new ‘loser’ kid at school could never date because she is dating or she dated the possessive ‘king of the douches’ and he won’t let her out of his sight. The first act of the film usually has the protagonist chasing or pining over said person and doing just about anything to get noticed, and while they think nothing could ever come of them, BANG they do something which touches their heart, a letter, a song or a cute and embarrassing gesture usually does the trick. And while all this is going on, they manage to fit in a scene where teens are dancing at an ‘underground’ club and everything is perfectly choregraphed. But you have to make sure ‘King of the Douches’ believes he is in control because he beat up the new kid for panting in the sun over his lady friend. And in the end it usually boils down to a fight over the girl, or there is some kind of emotional speech which 100% wins over the girl, and then the credits roll to a really awesome B grade song by some band that had one famous song. These are simple elements, but they work well and have been used many times over and were rehashed in the late 90’s and early 2000 flicks such as ‘She’s All That’ and ’10 Things I Hate About You’. While not every single teen flick has all the elements, they do have enough to tie them all together to put them in that genre and make them similar one way or another.
‘Tuff Turf’ is one of those underrated 80’s gems like ‘Thrashin’ and ‘The Last American Virgin’ which was forgotten in the midst of the John Hughes fog. It can definitely appeal to both chicks AND dudes, because it has romance, it has fighting, normal themes that teenagers can relate to but exaggerated a tad to come across as more ‘alive’ on screen. And it works, because you will get a great time with this film, and if you are an 80’s movie fiend like myself, you will be charged up, you will probably go on a search for more movies like this which may end up leading you to 1980’s revenge teen flicks, and more importantly you will want to watch James Spader’s performance of ‘I Walk the Night’ over and over again. This film knows exactly what it is, and it takes you on one of the most entertaining and unintentionally hilarious 80’s rides you have been on. It hasn’t aged the best in terms of production value, but it has a strong and easy to follow structure. Take ‘Tuff Turf’ for what it is and just enjoy it for that very reason; if you apply that kind of mentality to all movies, your movie viewing will be a hell of a lot more enjoyable.