TUFF TURF (1985) James Spader is the new kid in a town of whites.

tuffturf_theatricalposterTheme Song:

Tuff Turf by Southside Johnny

Interesting Dated References: The 80s as a whole. Everything from the plot, the music, the style of dress, the language, the slow motion gunshot, the James Spader, all of it 100% dated 80s reference.

Best Line: In stressed-out dad voice: “Look son, life isn’t a problem ought be solved. It’s a mystery to be lived.” In tough gang member voice “So, you guys feel like picking up some dust or what?”

Social Context: I’m not really sure. Certain parts of this movie seem to reflect that whole ‘one individual can do anything’ vibe that was popular in the 80s, but that’s sort of negated by the fact that the main character is also wealthy. Of course there is a whole undercurrent and sporadic mentions of gangs and violence, even though it is portrayed in a comical way.

Summary: Pants in the 80s made all chicks asses look like big messy sacs of potatoes. I’m glad with todays fashions we seem to have worked it out. Tuff Turf opens almost exactly like The Warriors. Sort of. We are introduced to a gang who are obviously “the bad kids.” They have no name so I am going to name them “The Cast From Beat It.” Herein, anytime the gang is seen, that’s what I’m going to call them. These guys are really tough (tuff?) and yet, inexplicably, their heist of a lecherous business man is interrupted by what, you ask? That’s right, James Spader … on a bicycle … with a shaken up can of beer. The Cast from Beat It are easily defeated and Spader rides off.

The next morning it is revealed that Spader has just transferred to the public school from out of state, is a good student and seems wealthy, but is also a loner. The Cast from Beat It and their token girlfriends spot the new kid and decide to get revenge. Keep in mind everyone looks like they are 25 or 30, except Robert Downey Jr., who must have not started doing drugs at this point and looks like a baby-faced future drug addict. It is made apparent the main The Cast from Beat It guy’s girlfriend has the hots for Spader. To make it more confusing, her name is Frankie, and to make it even more confusing, she is played by that girl that was in “Escape from Witch Mountain,” and also had a reoccuring role on Diffr’nt Strokes, so her nude scene in this must have been some coming out or something. Oh, and if you’re so inclined this actress is Kim Richards who is on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

Moving on, Downey Jr. invites Spader to some concert. Flash forward to what is perhaps one of the best 80s dance/concert displays on film. Downey Jr. is drumming with no shirt on, everyone is doing those 80s dances, the place is packed and extremely well lit … oh … and overrated poet/singer/drug addict Jim Carroll is the lead singer in the band. This whole montage is either fucking atrocious or super awesome, depending on how ironic you are feeling. Spader dances with Frankie (the girl) and like, I don’t know, then all hell breaks loose. The Cast from Beat It is initiating some type of choreographed fight thing that never actually happens.

These dangerous kids movies from the 80s all follow the same goddamn plot, so it gets a little tough to discern if I’ve seen this movie, but I think this is the movie responsible for all my James Spader disdain. I keep getting fucking distracted by this hot scene where the three girlfriends of The Cast from Beat It sit and eat fast food and look all hot and 80s. Cue another music montage with Spader, Downey, Frankie, and another girl, in which Spader drags them to a country club. Then another fucking montage at the country club and a shitty band playing, get this, “Twist and Shout.” James Spader then proceeds to sit Frankie at a piano and starts singing a song on piano to her. Except, apparently Spader forgot to practice and proceeds to attempt to mouth the words. The movie just went from wacky fun teen comedy to serious schmaltzy romance movie with this piano solo song and a lovely shot where Spader and Frankie get to talk about their hopes and dreams. This never happens in real life. Holy fuck, then the movie breaks out into another fucking music and dancing montage at a different fucking place featuring “Jack Mack and the Heart Attack” or as I liked to call them “Huey Lewis and the News but shittier and with more horns.” Turns out that Jack Mack and the Heart Attack also contributed songs to the soundtracks of Police Academy, Beverly Hills Cop, and Jersey Girl. Okay, things seem to cool down after Jack Mack and the Heart Attack finish their song. Can you believe I don’t take pictures of this shit? This website will surely fail within months.

The movie seems to be reverting back to third-rate The Warriors rip-off, then suddenly a boys locker room shower scene! Did you know James Spader had a tattoo of a spade on his shoulder? After a series of altercations with The Cast from Beat It, fatherly talks, etc., Spader finds out Frankie plans to marry the main guy from The Cast from Beat It. I’m pretty confused at this point because it was 40 minutes of music montages, and now suddenly the movie has transformed into some type of star crossed lovers plot. But that’s fine, I’ll go with it. After Spader invites Frankie over for dinner, she gets upset and winds up back with her future husband/tough-guy boyfriend. Over a montage of “People Who Died” by Jim Carroll, we are to assume she is once again fully amassed in the thug life. Spader’s father is shot with a gun in slow motion, and Frankie is taken against her will to “The Warehouse.” The main guy from The Cast from Beat It demands Spader meet him at said warehouse, which looks like a place were the actual cast from Beat It would hang out. Initiate lame fight sequence showdown, a confused Robert Downey Jr. introducing two dobermans into the equation, and really annoying synthesizer music, and you have the ending sequence of Tuff Turf.

The Cast from Beat It are dead or jailed (it’s never quite clarified). Spader and Frankie go back to the Jack Mack and the Heart Attack club for a closing dance sequence. Apparently I now think Jack Mack and the Heart Attack are awesome just because they’ve been continually shoved down my throat. I guess in all Tuff Turf isn’t a bad movie. It suffers from that thing where it can never decide if it’s a comedy, revenge, or action flick, but that’s fine. It could have been the writing or the direction, but considering this director was just coming of Children of the Corn, it seems odd that Tuff Turf should be so indecisive. Overly dramatic acting, bad soundtrack, and plenty of 80s ephemera all add up to an enjoyable experience and most importantly, I think I may even like James Spader now if for nothing else but the tattoo.

Poster and Box Art: Tuff Turf has a poster/box art that almost shouts “Hi I am a movie made in 1985.” The deception had already begun where Hollywood decided box art did not have to tell the entire story, so you just see the characters standing and engaged in no action. There’s not much else to say here, and I couldn’t find any other art.


I also found this on ebay. I bid $5.00 and was outbid for $5.50. I’m okay about it and didn’t really need anymore shit sitting around my house.

Availability: You can watch Tuff Turf right now on Netflix Streaming or Amazon Instant Video.


  • I just saw Tuff Turf yesterday, thanks to Netflix, and I agree with your entire review. I would add a question about these wacky eighties teens, however, and that’s “why would they stand by and watch those douches try and run over Morgan and his bike?” They seemed super excited about attempted murder. Also, where in the world was the school faculty and that dopey security guard, who may or may not have ever used the gun he carried on his rent-a-cop holster?

    I have noticed the spade tattoo in not only this film, but another hidden gem called Starcrossed.

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