Here’s another repost. I originally wrote this movie review for Epinions.com on May 21, 2007. I am reposting it here for the sake of nostalgia. It appears here as/is.
American Anthem… What’s reality got to do with Hollywood?
Pros: Music video quality. Decent soundtrack. Nice shots of Gaylord in shorts. Mindless fun.
Cons: Incredibly stupid plot. Bad acting. May be hard to find.
Twenty years ago, I was a devoted cable TV fan who had just discovered gymnastics. No, I’ve never been one to turn a cartwheel myself (having big jugs makes acrobatics difficult), but I do enjoy watching the sport. In 1986, the U.S. men’s gymnastics team was still basking in the glory of their team gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Hunky Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord apparently wanted to cash in on his new found fame and good looks. Perhaps he also wanted to get out of the gym.
I don’t know the real reasons behind his decision to make the 1986 flop American Anthem and try his hand at acting, but the regrettable fact remains that Gaylord does have American Anthem on his resume. Yesterday, I had the chance to view it again, courtesy of Amazon.com’s new Unbox service.
Let me be frank. When I was a teenager, I loved this movie. It used to come on HBO all the time and I never got tired of watching it. Now that I’m in my 30s (um… 50), this movie is not as enchanting. In fact, I’m pretty embarrassed to even count this flick as a guilty pleasure.
Anyway, Mitch Gaylord plays Steve Tevere, a former high school football star turned gymnast turned sports burnout. Steve Tevere lives with his parents, played by Michelle Phillips and John Aprea, and his little brother, Mikey, played by R.J. Williams, and works at the local motorcycle factory. Although at the beginning of the film, ol’ Steve has given up his dreams of gymnastics glory, he still hangs out with his athlete buddies and sneaks into the gym to watch them work out. And that’s when he catches sight of the babelicious newcomer to the gym, Julie Lloyd, played by dancer, Janet Jones (future wife of hockey star, Wayne Gretzky).
Julie Lloyd moved to the gym against her parents’ wills to train with the demanding Coach Soranhoff, played by Michael Pataki. She quickly makes friends with a hardworking but less sexy gymnast named Becky Cameron, played by former University of Florida gymnast Maria Anz. When Julie and Becky go out for some good times at the local bar, they run into Steve, who immediately hits on Julie. Julie and Steve predictably hook up, which leads Steve to consider going back to gymnastics. After getting a lecture from his friend, Kirk Baker, played by Stacy Maloney, Steve decides to go back to the gym. His father is against his decision, leading them to fight.
There’s a third plot in this story. Julie’s disabled cousin Arthur, played by Andrea Bianchi, also happens to live in the same town as the gym. Arthur lost his parents in a car crash and was left with a leg brace. He spends his time holed up in a house, composing music on his synthesizer. Julie pays him a visit and establishes his role in the film.
Both Julie and Steve are headstrong athletes dealing with personal conflicts. Steve struggles with a fear of not living up to his past successes. He’s unhappy as a clearly mature man, living with his parents and working at a dead end job. And Julie doesn’t like her floor exercise music. If I could, I’d insert an eyeroll smiley right here. Since I don’t have access to smilies, I will just repeat myself in italics. Julie’s conflict is that she doesn’t like her coach’s choice in music for her floor exercise routine. After listening to and watching Julie’s routine, I can’t say I blame her. The flatulent sounding piece sounds like it was an early inspiration for the Who Framed Roger Rabbit soundtrack.
Anyway, Julie would rather use a dynamic, snazzy piece composed by her disabled cousin, Arthur. The coach won’t hear of it, so Julie gets an attitude at a regional meet, which upsets her teammate, Becky Cameron. The movie plods on with Steve on the outs with his parents– especially his father– and Julie on the outs with the coach and her high achieving teammate. Arthur hangs out on the sidelines, pressuring Julie to use his music instead of the beastly number the coach has chosen.
At this point, I’ll just say that naturally, Steve and Julie work through their issues to become triumphant at the movie’s splashy gymnastics meet finale. They also make progress in healing their personal rifts with family. Incidentally, I always get a kick out of the final gymnastics meet, meant to choose the U.S. gymnastics team. I read that the scene was filmed in the gym of an abandoned high school. The overall lighting is kept low, with dramatic colored lights very obviously displayed. It looks more like the Ice Capades than an actual gymnastics meet. Watch gymnastics on ESPN someday and you’ll see that the lighting in real meets is kept very bright. But then again, these are the movies. What’s reality got to do with Hollywood?
American Anthem is a pretty stupid movie. For one thing, Janet Jones and Mitch Gaylord were way too old for their parts. Most serious female gymnasts are in their early to late teens with a few managing to hang on in their 20s. In 1986, Janet Jones was 25 years old. Although she was thin and had a beautiful dancer’s body, she certainly didn’t have a gymnast’s body. Successful gymnasts tend to be very small, flat-chested, and childlike. Make no mistake, Janet Jones did not look like a child in this movie. Male gymnasts tend to be a bit older, but the way this story is presented, it looks like Steve Tevere is supposed to be several years younger than the 25 year old man Mitch Gaylord was at the time.
For another thing, Julie and Steve are shown spending a lot of time having fun. Steve, in particular, seems to spend all his spare time smoking Marlboros and drinking beer. Julie hangs out with her disabled cousin, coming up with a new floor exercise routine with the music he composed for her. Again, it’s unrealistic. Serious gymnasts spend most of their time at the gym. They don’t have time for fooling around. There’s only one realistic looking gymnast in this film and that’s 12 year old Jenny Ester, who played Tracy Prescott. Jenny Ester was an actual top level gymnast in the 1980s.
The acting is laughable, too. The only character in this film whose acting really impressed me was R.J. Williams’, who was eight years old when this flick was made. I thought he did a fantastic job considering the material he had to work with. Everybody else delivered their lines with all the personality of an empty pizza box.
The one thing that does stick out about this film is that it looks like a music video. Famed Hollywood composer Alan Silvestri scored the film and several rock stars, including John Parr, Graham Nash, Andy Taylor (of Duran Duran), and Mr. Mister all contribute tracks. The music is non-stop throughout this film, along with plenty of cinematic photography. It shouldn’t be surprising that this movie looks like a music video, since it was directed by Albert Magnoli, who also directed Prince’s film debut, Purple Rain. Purple Rain is another 80s guilty pleasure for me, but like American Anthem, it’s not long on great acting.
Filthy language is at a bare minimum in American Anthem. The flick is rated PG-13 and I only heard the F-bomb dropped once. But this movie runs for an hour and 40 minutes and unfortunately, the time is mostly filled with boring dialog, 80s music, and sexy guys and girls in leotards. The gymnastics are kind of fun to watch, but they look pretty dated nowadays. It’s also pretty obvious that whoever did Janet Jones’ gymnastics stunts was quite a bit shorter than Jones.
Watching American Anthem is probably not the greatest use of your time. In fact, it amazes me that this movie actually had a short run in movie theaters. I recall that it was on video in record time. However, people must have liked it since it seems that a DVD release may be coming in the near future. Of course, you can download it off Amazon.com for $9.99 or buy the videocassette for an arm and a leg. Unless you really love gymnastics or have a unique fondness for movies that are so bad they’re good, I’d recommend skipping American Anthem.
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