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Movie Review: ‘Blue Chips’

February 15, 1994

Undated (AP) _ ″Blue Chips″ amounts to hog heaven for basketball jocks. Not only can they witness wall-to-wall court action, they can also see their favorite stars, from Bob Cousy to Shaquille O’Neal - as actors.

The movie was crafted by loving hands. The writer and co-producer is Ron Shelton, whose passion for sports resulted in the delightful ″Bull Durham″ and ″White Men Can’t Jump,″ both of which he wrote and directed. ″Blue Chips″ director William Friedkin has worked out with the Boston Celtics for the past 17 years, according to publicity material.

The film is not merely a celebration of James Naismith’s invention. It also shows how the pressure to win can corrupt coaches, college administrations and student-players alike.

Coach Nick Nolte begins the film with an address to the troops that makes George C. Scott’s Patton seem like a high school debater. Nolte tosses furniture, trashes lockers and excoriates his contrite players. Even though they play their hearts out in the second half, they lack the talent to save Nolte from a losing season after years of triumph.

The coach can’t handle losing. Nor can the alumni, headed by a rich sleaze, J.T. Walsh. Reporters also hammer at Nolte, hinting of an alleged point- shaving incident in years past.

Nolte is determined to rebuild his basketball glory. He visits three of the nation’s most promising prospects: a slum kid in Chicago (Anfernee ″Penny″ Hardaway); a farm boy in French Lick, Ind. (Matt Nover); and a New Orleans sensation (O’Neal). Blue chips all.

Other universities are hustling the kids, and Nolte fears he will lose them. He always has conducted a clean program, but he is tempted to abandon his principles and let the alumni sweeten the deals for the athletes to choose Western University (somewhere in California). His decision creates the movie’s climax.

Nolte has the necessary dynamism to convey the ceaseless drive of a win-or- else coach. No star today could have played Pete Bell better. Superficially, Bell may seem to resemble Bobby Knight, who appears as himself in the climactic court battle.

Mary McDonnell conveys the human understanding of Nolte’s ex-wife, the obligatory female role amid the macho crowd. The Shaq is an absolute delight as the sly Neon Bodeaux. Also outstanding are Cousy as the athletic director and Marques Johnson as one of Nolte’s assistants.

Sports fans will have as much fun recognizing the basketball greats (″Hey, there’s Tarkanian 3/8″ ″That’s Larry Bird 3/8″) as movie fans had picking out the stars in Robert Altman’s ″The Player.″

Shelton’s script sails along until the latter portions, when principle and expediency clash. Friedkin, who has endured a few losing seasons himself, rebounds with a fast-paced, sure-handed piece of work. One niggling note: Do all goals resound with the noise of a howitzer?

The Paramount Pictures release was produced by Michele Rappaport and co- produced by Shelton and Wolfgang Gates. Rated PG-13, mostly for language. Running time: 102 minutes.

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G - General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG - Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 - Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 - No one under 17 admitted.

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