Movie review: ‘Necessary Roughness’

Football movie storylines run a usual gamut from a bunch of losers who become winners to a bunch of athletes who get the coach they need or a bunch of convicts get a game and use it to get back at their guards. Most recently, the most-recognized sports film “The Blind Side” tells the story of an athlete who, with the help of some rich folks, overcomes a bad home situation to become a star in college and the pros. On occasion, you get drama with a message (“The Blind Side” tries this, but just comes off as saccharine). However, let’s look today at “Necessary Roughness” – you get no team with a new coach … a unique concept. Watch it for the actors and a solid story line (and it is not to be confused with the TV production of the same name).

‘Necessary Roughness’
(1991; 108 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Stan Dragoti and starring Scott Bakula, Hector Elizondo and Robert Loggia)

A FOOTBALL MOVIE WORTH WATCHING

(NOTE: I updated this review Dec. 14, 2015, with some links and the then-recent death of one of the actors. I reorganized, expanded the review and updated links again on Sept. 2, 2017.)

Necessary Roughness” is a good movie about college football and, unexpectedly, Hector Elizondo gives an outstanding performance that elevates this one to nearly-great status. “Necessary Roughness” also enjoys the wonderful work of much of the rest of the cast and talented, but not heavy-handed, direction by Stan Dragoti.

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You can find good football films (say, the original “Longest Yard”) or a muddled one that’s bloated, bad, overrated and full of itself (say, Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday”) or one with an anti-sports message (say, the disappointing adaptation of “North Dallas Forty” — click here for my review), or even a really nice kids football film (“Little Giants” — click here for my review). But if you want one you probably don’t remember, then check out “Necessary Roughness.”

At the start, Elizondo playing “Ed Gennero,” is a former coach who is commentating on TV about the day’s current scandal in college football. He’s known as “Straight Arrow” and gets hired by the scandal-ridden Texas university he was just commenting about. That’s because its entire team was dismissed because of cheating. Now, Elizondo has to find players who actually are students at the school. What a concept! You know it’s a movie when the football players are real students!

As the movie moves forward, the team is pieced together twice (a bunch of Elizondo’s first student group gets shut out due to grades) and have to bond through games and a nice bar fight sequence. In the end, of course they turn out winners despite a losing season.

Necessary Roughness” has a variety of nice scenes, but no single one is so outstanding as to be memorable. Unfortunately there are stereotypes, but they are easily forgotten along the way. So, here’s a look at some of the principal cast:

  • It’s obvious from the first reel that Golden Globe nominee (not for this one) Elizondo, who was everyone’s favorite hotel manager in his nominated role in “Pretty Woman,” is the best actor here. He obviously worked hard to be able to project strength and wisdom through the role without becoming an annoying stereotype of a coach. Elizondo’s effort here is better than his turns in “The Princess Diaries” and “Runaway Bride” and equal to his stint on TV’s “Monk.” You probably don’t remember, but he was one of the crooks in the original “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” from 1974 (click here for my review) and a decade later was simply terrific with a career-defining character in “The Flamingo Kid” (click here for my review).
  • The head coach’s sidekick is played by Oscar nominee (not for this one) Robert Loggia, who gives the second best performance after Elizondo. As “Walter ‘Wally’ Riggendorf” he’s brash, loud and takes a chance on a 34-year-old quarterback and a supermodel-beautiful place kicker (real supermodel Kathy Ireland plays the role). Loggia excels here and did everything from “Scarface” to being Richard Gere’s father in “An Officer and a Gentleman” to the piano playing tycoon in “Big” to being “Feech La Manna” in HBO’s “The Sopranos.” He notched 231 credits since his first in 1951 until his death on Dec. 4, 2015 — and that left him with seven decades of work. He was nominated for “Jagged Edge.”
  • Golden Globe winner and two-time nominee (not for this one) Scott Bakula is ostensibly the headliner here by playing “Paul Blake,” the 34-year-old who didn’t have a college career because he was needed on the family farm. Now, he’s got his shot. Bakula, who won and got two nominations for TV’s “Quantum Leap” and was in “American Beauty” and a bunch of TV work, is solid, but doesn’t elevate the film as much as others. Still, without his competent, even performance, the film would have all too easily failed despite Elizondo.

So, who also elevates the film? Several supporting cast members …

  • The most notable supporting actor is Larry Miller as anti-football dean “Phillip Elias.” Miller, who was in “10 Things I Hate About You” and “The Nutty Professor,” was just a perfect cast and delivers a wonderful performance as the stuck-up, manipulative and egotistical bureaucrat. Miller’s voice must have won him the role, just as Fred Dalton Thompson’s voice and presence got him the role as the university president. Miller has a prolific 138 credits since his first in 1982.
  • For whatever reason, I like Sinbad in films. From two in 1996, “First Kid” (click here for my review) to “Jingle All the Way” (click here for my review), this man is watchable on screen. Like Bakula, he has a smooth delivery that obviously was developed in his work as a stand-up comedian. Here he plays “Andre Krimm,” a professor with one year of football eligibility left – of course. I guess you can’t go wrong with Sinbad on the screen. Well …
  • Every football story needs a love interest and Harley Jane Kozak as the players’ journalism professor. She becomes the target of Bakula’s affection in a “meet-cute” by hitting him with a racquetball. Kozak is good, but doesn’t have much to work with as “Suzanne Carter.” I liked Kozak better in a smaller role in “Parenthood” (click here for my review) and her other credits include “When Harry Met Sally” and “The Lovemaster.”
  • Jason Bateman has come up in the world since TV’s “Little House on the Prairie” and “Silver Spoons” and his small role in “Necessary Roughness,” where he plays “Jarvis Edison” (the rich donor’s son). Still, he makes the most of his time and doesn’t come off as an embarrassment – an all too possible outcome for his character. Bateman has since worked up to lead stuff through roles in “Juno,” “Horrible Bosses” (click here for my review), “Identity Thief” and “Couples Retreat.” However, he’s not really lead material. He’s good; he’s solid; but he can’t carry a film. Just watch “Office Christmas Party” (click here for my review) and you’ll know why.
  • With a big laugh, an energetic Rob Schneider plays “Chuck Neiderman” as the voice of the Texas State University Armadillos (the fictional college here). Schneider hits every mark in his energetic performance and although I would have liked to have seen more of his character, it probably would have wound up too much of a good thing turning bad. Schneider has also made his mark with “Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo,” “The Hot Chick,” “50 First Dates” and “Down Periscope” (click here for my review). Another small but effect role was in the stoner cult flick “Grandma’s Boy” (click here for my review).

Finally, I also enjoyed the work by Peter Navy Tuiasosopo, who plays “Manumana” and is the heavy-weight lineman for the team. In the film’s credits, he’s just Peter (the Navy was added later) and he delivers a smooth, easy-going effort. It’s not Academy Award material, but Tuiasosopo has a lot of fun with his role here. He’s also been in “The Fast and the Furious” (as “Samoan guard”) as well as “Batman and Robin” along with work on a variety of TV shows.

Oh, yes. Just like in many other films (including “Little Giants”), a bunch of professional athletes – I’ll name them all later – are called in by Miller, who tells Elizondo that he’s arranged a scrimmage with another state institution. It turns out to be the state prison. At the end of the beatings, Ben Davidson (a huge defensive lineman who starred for the Oakland Raiders), when asked what he was serving time for, replies, “Computer fraud.” It’s a funny scene given the seriously threatening nature and outright violence of the football players and lone boxer.

Necessary Roughness” winds up in a satisfactory way, with all the subplots spinning out and answers to most of the questions.

A final note: A TV series of the same name about a psychologist coming in to help a pro football team came out in 2011 but has absolutely no ties to the film other than the name and a slight plot concession.

As for the director, Dragoti, who was supermodel Cheryl Tiegs’ first husband, does a wonderful job of taking a bunch of potentially stereotypical parts and making the whole as good as it could ever be. Dragoti’s short career behind the camera notched only six other directing credits including “Mr. Mom.”

Necessary Roughness” was the 48th ranked film at the box office in 1991 with $26.2 million in receipts, according to Box Office Mojo. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was top of the heap with more than $202 million raked it at the box office. Here are the other films from 1991 that I’ve reviewed for this blog:

Other cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Although remembered best as a supermodel, Ireland has recorded 39 acting credits including “Loaded Weapon 1” and “The Player.”
  • Sinbad is a native of Michigan and his real name is David Adkins and he stands (by Hollywood standards) a towering 6-foot-5.
  • Kozak’s real name is Susan Jane Kozak and she gets her professional name “Harley” from the motorcycle. She never would have make it on “The Big Bang Theory” and its cast of shorties as she’s 5-foot-9.
  • The prison football team was (NFL team noted): Dick Butkus (Bears), Earl Campbell (Oilers), Roger Craig (49ers), Davidson, Tony Dorsett (Cowboys), Evander Holyfield (boxer and only non-NFLer), Ed “Too Tall” Jones (Cowboys), Jim Kelly (Bills’ quarterback in their Super Bowl years and who now has major physical challenges), Jerry Rice (49ers), Herschel Walker (Cowboys) and Randy White (Cowboys).
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “Texas State’s school colors of green and white are the same as those of the University of North Texas, which was the main shooting location for this film.”
  • On an ironic note, the fictional “Armadillos” tie the University of Kanas for their first success of the season in the film. Bakula attended Kansas (which has a rotten football team in real life).
  • Remember to always check your online resource. Even a wonderful reference website like IMDb.com makes mistakes. In its listing for “Necessary Roughness,” it has one character listed as “Eric ‘Samori’ Hansen.” Of course it’s “Samurai” (don’t blame the credits; it is spelled correctly there) and apparently was entered by someone who cannot spell or could see the underline for misspelling in a word processing program. Sheesh.

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2015, 2017.
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