Theme Song: None.
Interesting Dated References: Women who are interested in or impressed by photography, walls with carpet on them, malls that were painted burnt sienna and raw umber, men standing up for themselves.
Best Line: From Burt Reynolds while sitting on the toilet said to a person knocking on the door — “Just shit and send it under the door.”
Social Context: Designed as a diatribe against 70s New Age religion, but disguised as a buddy football film, Semi Tough attempts to show the flaws in these “theologies.” It does so very poorly.
Summary: Semi Tough stars Burt Reynolds as “Billy Puckett” and Kris Kristofferson as “Marvin Tiller,” two football players on their way to the Super Bowl who also happen to live with the team owner’s daughter, Barbara, played by Jill Clayburgh who I am not a fan of. This living arrangement is accepted because it’s the 70s.
Right off the bat Reynolds solidifies himself as the educated cowboy with a penchant for reflective thought. Countering his character is Kristofferson as the New Age extrovert-type. Clayburgh plays mother to these two, but goes on to become involved with Kristofferson. Reynolds uses his eyebrows to indicate he does not approve of this affair.
The romantic love triangle story takes a back seat as we watch the team party-down, which leads to plenty of excellent 70s clothing and settings on display. In fact, a surprisingly young-looking Brian Dennehy portrays the simpleton team member with good comedic bravado. It’s hard to believe just a few years later he would look much older as Sheriff Teasle in First Blood. During the course of all the racial jokes and beer drinking hi-jinx, Reynolds character gets it in his head to start writing about his experiences and is then coaxed along by Clayburgh who introduces him to some publisher. As the team gets closer to the Super Bowl, Kristofferson steps up and asks Clayburgh to marry him. Naturally, Reynolds eyebrows indicate he is not pleased.
So as Kristofferson focuses in on marriage and New Age philosophies, Reynolds searches his soul and writes his book. The team immediately gets fitted for their wedding outfits. While getting this done, Reynolds has a moment with Clayburgh and they address why they “never fucked.” No real conclusion is given, but the eyebrows of Reynolds never lie. He’s obviously in full on “pining” mode. Kristofferson, on the other hand, convinces Clayburgh that she needs to go through “BEAT” training so they can be on the same plain. This training is a massive send-up of much of the late-70s New Age philosophy shit that went on in California. The movie includes several inferences to these practices, and Reynolds represents the “sane person” surrounded by all of these doctrines. BEAT is a direct send-up of “est.” At the BEAT training, Reynolds sneaks in and takes part. After the exhausting 70s mumbo jumbo seminar, Reynolds is converted into believing in “the power” or some shit the class taught. Clayburgh on the other hand gets frustrated she doesn’t “get it.” It becomes apparent Reynolds is doing all of this as a rouse to try to steal Clayburgh back for himself. This entire sequence goes on so long it’s hard to tell if it’s a subplot or the main plot at this point. And who the fuck sits around at wedding rehearsals the day before the Super Bowl? Apparently this whole goddamn team does.
Then there’s a Superbowl, then there’s a wedding. As the pastor starts his sermon, both Kristofferson and Clayburgh agree not to get married. Then the whole situation devolves into a Benny Hill skit as the whole party starts to fight with each other over wacky music. Meanwhile, Reynolds confesses to Clayburgh what bullshit the BEAT training New Age crap is and they walk off together. I don’t know what happened to the football movie I was watching, but this piss-poor send up of 70s New Age ideologies fell flat. Also, two guys would never fight over Jill Clayburgh
Allegedly Semi Tough is a really good book about football, race, and being a man. Everywhere I looked the book is lauded as paving the way for the “sports-comedy” film genre of the 80s. Somehow though, the movie does not get this same credit. It seems like the screenwriters decided to take the book and loosely adapt the plot (football) as a way to poke fun at all of the 70s New Age shit going on. The result is dated as shit and fails to hold any relevance. Oh, and lets not forget about the whole writing-a-book thing Reynolds was doing that just evaporated.
Poster and Box Art This is a great 70s poster. The original theatrical poster features drawings of Reynolds and Kristofferson with almost identical bodies. In front of them are a trio of beautiful 70s chicks. What makes this poster great? Well, obviously it’s the blatant misogyny. In fact, there is an alternate version of this poster featuring even more babes:
I can actually imagine the marketing meetings for this poster. You can see someone saying there needs to be less or more babes for each poster. Once they greenlighted the two versions for U.S. markets, they went all out with the Spanish version:
It’s like they just threw in all the leftover babes from the previous posters and turned it into an all-out colored pencil orgy. It really is incredible this used to fly, and it just goes to show why the world sucks now. Oh, after the Spanish orgy version, someone must have flipped out and they agreed to make this family safe version:
The new DVD cover looks terrible. That’s because all new DVD covers for awesome 70s movies look like garbage.
Availability: DVD via Amazon is available. No frills.