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BLUE CHIPS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Nick Nolte, Mary McDonnell, Ed O'Neill, J.T. Walsh, Alfre Woodard, Shaquille O'Neal
Director: William Friedkin
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: March 29, 2005

"I've become what I despised. I've cheated my profession. I've cheated myself.  I've cheated basketball."

Film ***

Most basketball movies trace a team's rise to the top. Such classic films like Hoosiers celebrate victory at the hands of underdog teams that truly deserve it. However, there exists a more dark, morally challenged aspect of basketball. Blue Chips is perhaps the first movie to approach this aspect of the game.

Director William Friedkin and screenwriter Ron Shelton have created a most effective sports drama. Until this movie, the issue of the politics the go along with that of recruiting players. It presents us a basketball coach, depended on excellence by the athletic committee, who is forced into executing an off court play he swore he never imagined going along with.

Pete Bell (Nick Nolte) is about to endure his first losing season as head coach of the Western University Dolphins. Having already brought the college two national titles in the past, Coach Bell is not one to endorse or enjoy losing. His season of 14-15 encourages him to scout about for the most sought after players (up and coming players known as "blue chips"), though in order to guarantee his team a winning season next year, he may have to bend the rules of recruiting a bit.

Bell journeys from Indiana all the way to Algiers, LA., and discovers three prospect athletes. First, there's Butch McRae (Penny Hardaway) from Chicago, whose mother (Alfre Woodard) wants a high paying job and a home in exchange for his son's enrollment. The second discovery is Indiana farm boy Ricky Roe (Matt Nover), who wants cash on the spot as well as a new tractor for his father. Lastly, there's towering baler Neon (Shaquille O'Neal) who just wants to play ball, even if it means taking "culturally biased" courses in college.

So Bell has gotten what he sees as his ticket to the Final Four next season, but in the aftermath of cheating, his conscience begins to slowly catch up with him. It only worsens once he comes to realize that Happy (J.T. Walsh), a corrupt friend of the athletic program, begins to not only respond to players demands, but exceeds them with items such as a Lexus and multiple bags of cash. The power of the movie is revealed in a crucial dialogue exchange between Bell and Happy, where Happy tells him three simple little words, "I OWN YOU."

Though fictionalized for dramatic effect, I have no doubt believing that the events depicted in Blue Chips have occurred in real life. Hell, I'd like to think that my nemesis team, Duke University, has gone through the same tactics so that one day everybody involved can be exposed. After all, it seems that they keep winning and winning, season after season.

The highlight here is Nick Nolte in one of the actor's all time best, and more underappreciated, performances. Right from the opening scene, Nolte has the rhythm and persona of a basketball coach down pat. The opening scene, where he chews out his losing team in pure Bobby Knight-like fashion is quite riveting. Nolte has delivered a character that we can truly sympathize with, even he does end up doing the wrong thing. A press conference scene near the end of the movie is nothing short of pure acting dynamite on behalf of Nolte.

The movie garnered a bit of hype for being the film debut of NBA star O'Neal, and while the story isn't entirely focused on his character, Shaq rises to the acting challenge quite well. And it goes with out saying that Blue Chips is easily the best film he's done yet, since the only two other films he's done were forgettable duds Kazaam and Steel.

Though the movie does feature stellar basketball sequences, the heart of Blue Chips is the action off the court. The dilemma that the Nolte character endures is quite a fascinating one, and witnessing the corrupt side of college basketball unfold before us is something to be seen. Fans of basketball and dynamite acting shall not hesitate to check this out this 90s fave of mine.

BONUS: Several real life coaches and players make brief appearances. Among them are coaches Rick Pitino, Bobby Knight and Jerry Tarkanian. Former Celtic Larry Bird pops up in one scene, and yes, there's even an appearance from the one and only Dick Vitale, BABY!

Video ***1/2

Paramount does a most wonderful job with this lively anamorphic presentation. I've waited quite a while for this one to make it to DVD, and I must say that I am more than satisfied with how well it has be presented. The image consists of incredible clear and crisp images, especially on that of the basketball court. Colors are most magnificent, most notably that of blue which is the trademark color of the team. Slight grain instances, but nothing distracting.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix did nothing short of blow me away. I used to own a VHS copy of the movie, and let me tell you, watching this on DVD was like experiencing a whole new version. Everything from music pickup to dialogue delivery to, especially, crowd noise and basketball action are delivered in excellent, surround sound form. For Paramount, this is a true slam dunk!

Features (Zero Stars)

Technical Foul - No extras on this disc.

Summary:

Blue Chips is a most stellar sports movie, but not for the reasons one would expect. This is no traditional sports flick, but one that delves into an aspect of the game that is seldom scene. That and a dynamite performance from Nick Nolte make this a definite must see!

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