Like a disputed goal, hockey movies need to be reviewed. More accurate than the War Room in Toronto, more exciting than a referee’s microphone malfunction, it’s PITB’s Under Review. First up: 1986′s Youngblood, starring Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, and Cynthia Gibb. Fair warning: there will be spoilers.
Ruling on the Ice: Good goal. While Youngblood succumbs to too many sports movie clichés and loses sight of its main conflict, it’s still an entertaining ride that gets the hockey mostly right. But we’re going to have to go upstairs on this one.
While Youngblood is certainly a hockey movie, it is first and foremost an eighties movie. It has all the hallmarks: a synth-heavy score, feathered mullets, copious amounts of bro love, Patrick Swayze, and long, loving shots of the naked male buttocks. The only thing keeping this from being the quintessential eighties movie rather than Top Gun is the lack of aviator sunglasses.
The movie opens with an authentic looking home movie of a group of young kids playing pond hockey. One of them, the eponymous Dean Youngblood, flies around the other kids and scores a pretty goal on the over-matched goaltender. As he’s celebrating, one of the older and bigger kids skates over and knocks him on his keister. This is, in a nutshell, the main conflict of the movie — speed and skill vs size and aggression — and it is subtly presented.
Nothing else in this movie will be subtle, immediately proven as the synth kicks in and we cut to the older Dean Youngblood, played by Rob Lowe, practicing on a foggy ice rink lit only by a zamboni’s headlights. Dean faces the Luke Skywalker dilemma: he’s trapped working on a farm and wants to go out and make something of himself. Instead of whining about going to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters, Dean whines about going to Hamilton to try out for an OHL team, evidently right before the playoffs start. It’s at this tryout for the Hamilton Mustangs that we meet the movie’s main antagonist, the goon Carl Racki.
Racki is the antithesis of Youngblood, scoring 15 goals and 22 assists in Tier 2, but racking up 378 penalty minutes. Youngblood, on the other hand, scored 92 goals and 125 assists for the Stanton Flyers, but only received 14 penalty minutes. It’s the same conflict presented in the home movie at the beginning, now personified. The coach puts the two of them opposite each other and Racki promptly crosschecks Youngblood in the face. Youngblood responds by hitting Racki off the puck and scoring.
“Keep your head up, *****,” says Racki.
“Look where the puck is, ***hole,” responds Youngblood.
“Wanna go, pretty boy?” Racki replies and one-punches Youngblood before he even drops his gloves.
Here, unfortunately, is where the movie’s logic breaks down. The movie’s major conflict is that Youngblood isn’t tough enough for hockey because he can’t fight, but we just saw him take a crosscheck in the face requiring 6 stitches and responding by not only staying on the ice, but throwing a hit and scoring. It’s a classic misunderstanding of what toughness in hockey is all about.
Youngblood makes the team over Racki, who ends up on the Thunder Bay Bombers, who of course play the Hamilton Mustangs in the championship, bringing everything full circle. What follows is fairly bog-standard as far as plot goes, but there are enough fun and absolutely absurd moments to keep things interesting.
For example, Youngblood meets his love interest buttocks-first, as Jessie Chadwick, played by Cynthia Gibb, runs into him in a hallway at the ice rink while he is clad only in a jock strap. I’m fairly certain this is the only meet-cute in movie history involving a jock strap. She is, of course, the coach’s daughter, and his involvement with her leads to being frequently benched. They show they are in love using the typical Hollywood shorthand: they have sex. I’m not sure whether Hollywood is aware of any other way to show that two characters are in love.
In any case, Jessie adds a wrinkle to the main conflict by revealing that she is not a fan of the standard violence-loving mindset of the typical hockey player, falling in love with Youngblood because he’s different. Jessie’s feelings about violence in hockey heighten the conflict for Youngblood: if he fights like his coach and teammates are pressuring him to do, will he lose the girl? But if he doesn’t fight, will he ever play professionally?
Furthering the conflict is Youngblood’s growing friendship with the captain of the Mustangs, Derek Sutton, played by Patrick Swayze. Sutton is astonishingly good, having scored 91 goals already by the time Youngblood joins the team. The OHL record for most goals in a season is 87, set by Ernie Godden in 1980-81, who never made an impact in the NHL due to his small stature. Sutton doesn’t have that problem however, as he also bowls over opposing defensemen and plays with a definite mean streak. All his character cares about is getting picked #1 in the draft and signing a massive contract and understands that the way to do that is playing the way “they” want him to play. The pressure is on for Youngblood to do the same.
The conflict comes to a head when the Mustangs meet Racki’s Bombers in the final of the Memorial Cup (inaccurately portrayed as a series rather than a single game). In a wonderful piece of irony that I’m not even sure was intentional, Youngblood only gets into the game (remember, he’s being benched because he’s dating the coach’s daughter) after a bench-clearing brawl injures another player. He, of course, scores almost immediately. During the celebration, Racki knocks off Sutton’s helmet, then trips him from behind, causing his head to hit the ice. All of this is done intentionally.
Racki then skates to the bench while Swayze’s head bleeds all over the ice like he’s Wayne Gretzky. It doesn’t even look like he gets a penalty and it’s later revealed that he doesn’t get a suspension. This is treated as all part of Junior hockey and it’s absolutely absurd.The movie would be far better served if Racki ended Sutton’s career during the course of play with a blatant cheap shot, but to make it during a stoppage in play and have there be no repercussions turns the plot into a farce.
Still, it does bring the main conflict of the film to a breaking point: will Youngblood try to get revenge on Racki or will he show that he is the better man by defeating him on the scoreboard with his superior skill? He even confides in Jessie that he wishes he had injured Racki first, a bloodthirsty notion that angers her and shows exactly what’s at stake: he could lose her. Everything is set up for a glorious conclusion, but the film instead goes completely off the rails, as Youngblood quits the team and goes back to the farm.
It’s a decision that doesn’t make any sense for the character, but it does give the director a chance to indulge in one more eighties movie cliche: montages! Somehow, they manage to squeeze two separate montages into what is, at most, one week of time in the movie. First we get the montage of Youngblood being a terrible farmer. He can’t shovel hay fast enough, gets cut by barbed wire, and gets attacked by chickens. Then comes the training montage, as Youngblood’s older brother teaches him how to fight. He also lifts a lot of weights, because it apparently only takes a week to build up muscle mass.
It’s a baffling digression from the main plot of the movie, but eventually Youngblood makes his way back to Hamilton and begs his way back onto the team. In his absence (and the hospitalization of their captain), they have been completely ineffective against the bruising Bombers. Not to worry, as Youngblood scores about 7 seconds into his first shift. The Thunder Bay coach apparently doesn’t trust any of his defencemen to stop the young phenom, as he sends Racki out to remove him from the game, which he does with a brutal (and unpenalized: the referee is absurdly terrible) high stick, chipping a tooth.
The ending initially plays out like it must: Youngblood returns to the ice and scores the game-tying goal with 10 seconds left on a play almost as absurd as the Mighty Ducks’ Flying-V. Setting up behind the net, he avoids a check and comes out in front, but instead of scoring immediately, he goes around the net again and puts the puck in on a double-wraparound. He wraps it around once…then he wraps it around again. Congratulations, movie, you just blew my mind.
On the ensuing faceoff, Youngblood flies past the Bombers for a breakaway, only to get tripped up by — who else — Racki. By necessity, the ensuing penalty shot is shown in slow motion. And, by necessity, Youngblood scores on an admittedly sweet move, faking a slapshot before slipping the puck between his legs, kicking it up to his stick, and roofing it past the hapless netminder. Wait: blinding speed, great hands, incredible shot, kicking the puck up to his stick? Youngblood is basically a poor man’s Pavel Bure. Actually, with his tendency to go around the net more times than necessary, he’s closer to Mason Raymond.
If the movie ended here, it would be entirely satisfactory: Youngblood proved his toughness without fighting, as he battled through an injury and the relentless hitting from the Bombers to win the game and the Memorial Cup almost single-handedly with a hattrick. Racki’s rough and tumble style of play is exposed for its undisciplined nature as he causes the penalty shot that loses his team the game. Sutton is shown sufficiently recovered from his injury to attend the game and Jessie cheers Youngblood on from the stands happy that he’s the hero without descending to Racki’s level. But the movie doesn’t end.
Instead, Youngblood insists on staying on the ice for the final 3 seconds of the game, knowing that Racki will want revenge. The filmmakers don’t seem to understand that Racki has already been defeated and their protagonist has been vindicated and set out to completely undo that victory with the most absurd hockey fight I have ever seen. Instead of dropping the gloves, they fight with their sticks like they’re Robin Hood and Little John.
Youngblood, having learned how to fight in an eighties movie montage, wins. Right. Sure he does.
Instead of this costing him his relationship with Jessie, they reveal that conflict as a fraud. The movie ends with a profession that she still loves him. So much for standing by her principles. It’s an entirely unsatisfactory ending that leaves the central conflict of whether Youngblood needs to be a fighter to succeed in hockey completely unresolved. It also completely removes any realism the movie had. We can believe that Youngblood can score and overcome his fears of Racki by standing up to him even after being high sticked in the face. We cannot, however, believe that he can beat Racki in a fight.
Still, Youngblood is pretty likeable. The on-ice actions is generally realistics with but a few exceptions, the portrayal of locker room camaraderie is dead on, and the acting is mostly solid. Keanu Reeves’ turn as a French Canadian goalie is both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious: it was his first movie role and his actual ability as a goaltender helped land him the job. It must have, because his ability to put on a French Canadian accent is pretty much non-existent. Reeves evidently still plays hockey in rec leagues.
The biggest highlight for hockey fans is the goalie masks. Reeves initially wears a Gerry Cheevers‘ tribute in red and white before switching to a mask reminiscent of Dan Bouchard’s mask when he played for the Atlanta Flames. The best of the bunch, however, is worn by the Bombers’ goalie and it will be very familiar to Canucks’ fans. It’s a blatant tribute to Gary “Bones” Bromley’s famous skull mask he wore with the Canucks and it is phenomenal.
Upon Further Review: After carefully studying the tape, there are too many problems with the plot: no goal. While definitely worth seeing for hockey fans, it’s just not a particularly good movie. The resolution of the conflict is just plain bad and, after considering it (and writing over 2000 words on the subject), I can’t in good conscience call it a good movie.
Best Hockey Play: While the first play of the final game features a picture perfect hip check by a Bulldog defenseman, the best play is clearly the second goal of that same game by the Bombers. Though they are set up as skill-less goons, they show some Sedinesque wizardry with a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play. Their captain streaks into the zone, putting the puck through one defenseman’s legs, then going wide on the other before making a drop pass. Then, following the Third Law of Sedinery, he makes yet another pass to a third forward, who one-times the puck home: French Canadian Keanu Reeves has no chance whatsoever.
Most Ludicrous On-Ice Moment: While the stick fight is baffling, the bigger crime is the double wraparound goal. The defensemen just stand around, more useless than Robert Dirk, who could at least defend the front of the net. Seriously, though. Double wraparound. What the heck.
Player I Would Draft: The clear choice is Patrick Swayze’s Derek Sutton, who scores like crazy and has the size and strength to make it at the NHL level. He also exhibits great leadership qualities, captaining a Memorial Cup winning team, even showing up in the locker room after a devastating head injury to encourage the team. The problem is that he may still have brain damage from his head hitting the ice: it would all depend on how he performs at the pre-draft combine. Dean Youngblood can rely on his skating to get him out of trouble in Junior hockey, but there are enough good skaters in the NHL to neutralize that advantage. When Youngblood gets hit, he can be put off his game. That said, if Sutton’s injury is as serious as initially feared, Youngblood is worth taking a chance on: if he can build his core strength and works on his attitude (bailing on his team in the middle of the playoffs is a bad sign), he has the potential to be the next Martin St. Louis.
Final Word: Although the Kurtenblog calls this Youngblood‘s one redeeming quality, the fact that the Mustangs’ billet, Ms. McGill, sleeps with all of the junior hockey players under her care is, in retrospect, extremely creepy. Youngblood is supposed to be seventeen in this movie. And given the number of players who have lived under her roof, he might want to get tested for a few STIs. Just saying.Tags: Cynthia Gibb, featured, Hockey Movies, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, spotlight, Under Review