Monday, January 02, 2006

No pain, no 10-yard gain: "North Dallas Forty"

Maybe it's just me, but I don't recall hearing "North Dallas Forty" come up very much when people talk about great football movies. It should.

The only thing I remembered about this movie before seeing it recently was a scene in which Nick Nolte painfully stretches out his body late at night, hoping to work out all the creaks and cracks but mostly just causing more agony. It's pretty pitiful, and it's probably not far off target when it comes to most pro football players, who take the most punishment of any guys in team sports.

Somewhat inspired by the Dallas Cowboys, "North Dallas Forty" follows a fictional pro team as it chases the playoffs. Most of the action takes place off the field, from wild parties with these idolized jokers -- since duplicated in other, second-rate football movies, i.e. "The Program" and "Varsity Blues" -- to incidents in the training room. At the core of the movies is one guy's struggle with how team officials have no problem pumping players full of drugs so they can perform every Sunday.

That guy is Nick Nolte ("Extreme Prejudice"), a wide receiver who still wants the glory but knows it can't last forever. Nolte looked a little thin to convince me he was a football player, but I also may be used to today's ripped physiques vs. the lack of conditioning in the '70s. In any case, Nolte is in fine acting form, warming up the temper he'll fully unleash a few years later in "48 Hrs." He really brings the right mix of humor and sadness to the role, getting off plenty of wisecracks but also looking pathetic at times.

As for the other players, singer/songwriter Mac Davis makes his acting debut as the team's stud quarterback. His part is more understated, but he's also solid as a guy who knows how to "play the game" off the field -- in other words, go along to get along. That makes it hard for him to stay friends with Nolte at times. We're also treated to actual NFL player John Matuszak as a lineman (before he achieved greater glory in "Caveman," "The Pirates" and as Sloth in "The Goonies") and Bo Svenson as another, stupider lineman who looks about 8 feet tall. Seriously, he could start for the Packers. Well, maybe not now, since he's 61.

Rounding out the cast are Charles Durning and G.D. Spradlin as coaches and Steve Forrest and Dabney Coleman as brothers who own the team. Nolte also has a love interest played by someone named Dayle Haddon, whose other titles include "Spermula" and "Cyborg." Take that for what you will.

Ultimately, it's a man's world here, and I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It may seem a bit dated -- nice jumpsuit, Mac! -- but it's still probably not far off. Hey, see how your body holds up to four months of pounding by guys now regularly exceeding 300 pounds. All the pads in the world can't compare to a needle that will make your muscles numb.


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