How Burt Reynolds Parodied Football and Self-Help in ‘Semi-Tough’


Director Michael Ritchie’s “Semi-Robust” might not be the best soccer film ever made, however it’s definitely probably the most fascinating.

Launched on Nov. 18, 1977, it touches on the whole lot from the life of a professional soccer group on the highway, to the self-help actions of the ’70s, and to the character of affection and friendship. It is also an important instance of the sort of films that populated that decade: humorous and critical on the identical time, not afraid to brush up towards huge concepts, and designed as an leisure for adults.

The film relies on a 1972 novel of the identical identify by longtime sportswriter Dan Jenkins, specializing in the grandeur, ridiculousness and excesses of professional soccer in an period that was outlined by legendary figures like Vince Lombardi and the emergence of the Tremendous Bowl because the crown jewel of American sports activities.

By the point it was optioned after which green-lit by United Artists, nevertheless, American tradition had modified an important deal, and so screenwriter Walter Bernstein and director Ritchie added a brand new dimension to the story, turning it into a mild critique of the fad of non secular self-improvement that was then enveloping the nation.

The story facilities on three oddball greatest buddies: Billy Clyde Puckett (Burt Reynolds) and Marvin “Shake” Tiller (Kris Kristofferson) are gamers for a professional group in Miami, and their roommate Barbara Jane Bookman (Jill Clayburgh) is the daughter of the group’s proprietor. The three do the whole lot collectively – from consuming meals to staying in adjoining lodge rooms when the group’s on the highway – however there’s by no means been any romantic problems between them.

Watch a Trailer for ‘Semi-Robust’

This adjustments when Shake will get concerned with a self-help motion known as B.E.A.T. (a parody of a ‘70s movement called EST). This group guarantees to actualize the life potential of anybody who subscribes to it, involving issues like attending conferences the place you are not allowed to go to the toilet for 12-hour stretches. B.E.A.T. is led by a charismatic if barely slimy guru named Friedrich Bismark (Bert Convy).

Barbara Jane finds herself drawn to the newfound sense of self that B.E.A.T. has given to Shake, and the 2 begin relationship simply because the group is gearing as much as make a run for the Tremendous Bowl. It is solely then that Billy Clyde realizes that he additionally has emotions for Barbara Jane, and the second half of Semi-Robust revolves round his try to interrupt up his buddies’ marriage ceremony, and the query of whether or not all of it will imperil Miami’s possibilities at profitable a championship.

The movie has a variety of quiet virtues. The characters are higher drawn and extra nuanced than those who seem in nearly every other sports activities movie of the ’70s. The appearing can be excellent. Reynolds brings his regular attraction to the function, however by no means slips into the broadness that may bedevil a few of his less-interesting performances from these years. That is matched completely by Kristofferson’s internality and skill to lend a thoughtfulness to even essentially the most comedic moments in Semi-Robust. Clayburgh could be nominated for Academy Awards in every of the next two years, and win one for An Single Lady in 1978. Unsurprisingly, she’s completely plausible as a lady who can maintain her personal in friendships with two testosterone-laden males.

Past this, Semi-Robust additionally performs to the 2 strengths that director Ritchie would show all through his profession: sports activities movies and comedies. He’d gotten his begin in 1969 with the Robert Redford car Downhill Racer, which helped kick off the sports-movie cycle of the ’70s, and had then gone on to make The Dangerous Information Bears in 1976, a average hit that just about instantly grew to become a cult basic. Into the ’80s, Ritchie moved extra immediately into comedy, with issues like Fletch, Wildcats, and The Golden Youngster.

Watch Burt Reynolds and Carl Weathers in ‘Semi-Robust’

In Semi-Robust he brings each these strands collectively, making a film through which there’s sufficient on-field and behind-the-scenes soccer materials to make it a sports activities movie and on the identical time sufficient dialogue and character-based humor to qualify it as a wry, observational comedy. However essentially the most fascinating factor in regards to the movie is the best way it combines ’70s-appropriate cynicism about establishments – faith, self-help, even soccer – with a deep perception in humanity.

Shake is not the one one who will get concerned in a motion that makes huge, hole guarantees. Workforce proprietor Large Ed Bookman (Robert Preston) has change into an adherent to a sort of motion remedy that requires him to spend as a lot time as potential crawling round on the bottom, in a sly parody of issues just like the Alexander Approach. In the meantime, the captain of the group taking part in towards Miami within the Tremendous Bowl (Carl Weathers) believes in a cult that tries to harness the facility of the pyramids to extend bodily vigor.

Semi-Robust additionally does not spare Catholicism: Within the scenes operating as much as the marriage, B.E.A.T. founder Bismark takes recommendation from a priest on easy methods to use tax-exempt standing to get away with actual property scams, and one of the best ways to launder cash. The subtlest cult of the entire movie, nevertheless, is soccer itself. The gamers (together with the late Brian Dennehy and Roger E. Mosley) are all a bit goofy, and run simply as amok because the believers in B.E.A.T. In the long run, the group proprietor Large Ed is operating a cult of persona simply as a lot as is Bismark.

Towards all of this, the love triangle between Shake, Billy Clyde and Barbara Jane resembles nothing a lot because the try of individuals making an attempt to determine easy methods to preserve their wits when establishments throughout them are attempting to power everybody to imagine in a single factor or one other. The splendidly tender ending between Billy Clyde and Barbara Jane serves as a humanistic reply to the query of how to do that: Simply discover somebody you’re keen on.

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