Semi-Tough (1977) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for nudity, sexuality and language
Running Time: 108 min.
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh, Robert Preston, Bert Convy, Brian Dennehy, Roger E. Mosley, Ron Silver, Carl Weathers, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Dick Schaap, Paul Hornung
Director: Michael Ritchie
Screenplay: Walter Bernstein (based on the novel by Dan Jenkins)
Semi-Tough is a difficult movie to describe, and perhaps impossible to recommend. It doesn't neatly fit into any defined genre, and there also isn't any determinable plot one can put a finger on when telling someone else what the film is all about. The most one could come up with is that it is a romantic comedy involving football players and "new age" philosophy, but that's really only a part of what Semi-Tough is all about. It's a lackadaisical, scattershot comedy that still manages to deliver on laughs and funny characterizations, even if it really isn't about anything at all.
Burt Reynolds (Smokey and the Bandit, WW and the Dixie Dancekings) stars as professional running back Billy Clyde Puckett, roommate and teammate of star receiver Marvin "Shake" Tiller (Kristofferson, Convoy). The two men share more than that in common, as both have an attraction for the team owner's daughter, and their good friend, Barbara Jane Bookman (Clayburgh, Silver Streak). Shake and BJ soon become an item, although Billy Clyde is finding it difficult to extinguish the torch he carries for her despite his wishing the couple well. Meanwhile, a self-consciousness guru (Convy, The Cannonball Run) enters all of their lives, and makes lasting changes in the make-up of the relationships.
The strengths of Semi-Tough come mostly from the charisma of its stars, with Burt Reynolds in particular showing a good sense of off-the-cuff comedic timing that catapulted him into stardom as a comedic actor for the next several years. Kristofferson and Clayburgh seem to have joined in on the fun, and the entire cast looks like it is having a good time with the loose and seemingly spontaneous material.
To properly appreciate a movie like Semi-Tough, it helps to be aware of the fads of the late 1970s, with its concentration on pseudo-spirituality, casual love, and take-nothing-serious attitudes. Reynolds fans will probably find his character to be a hoot, and this goes down as one of his funnier, more inspired performances in a comedy. It's not particularly heavy or memorable by-and-large, but for a couple of hours of amiable laughs, you can't really go wrong.
©2006 Vince Leo