HOOSIERS (director: David Anspaugh; screenwriter: Angelo Pizzo; cinematographer: Fred Murphy; editor: C. Timothy O'Meara; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Gene Hackman (Coach Norman Dale), Barbara Hershey (Myra Fleener), Dennis Hopper (Shooter), Sheb Wooley (Cletus Summers), Fern Persons (Opal Fleener), Brad Boyle (Whit), Steve Hollar (Rade), Brad Long (Buddy), Maris Valainis (Jimmy Chitwood, star player), David Neidorf (Shooter's son); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Angelo Pizzo/Carter De Haven; MGM Home Entertainment; 1986)

"The kind of corny and manipulative pic that makes me glad I'm not a basketball fan."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Predictable underdog sports film, that as it becomes more predictable and cliched becomes more annoying. The true story is set in the early 1950s, in a small Indiana town. It's the kind of corny and manipulative inspirational pic that makes me glad I'm not a basketball fan. It's Rudy without the pads, and does what Hollywood usually does to underdog sports stories. This movie became very popular, as the public took to the hammy acting and bought into the cheesy story and it became the perfect feel-good sports pic (it tops most polls as the greatest sports movie ever made). If it's sentimentality you can't get enough of, this film has enough for a dozen sports movies. Director David Anspaugh ("Rudy"/"Fresh Horses"/"Moonlight and Valentino"), who played junior high school hoops in Decatur, Indiana, and writer Angelo Pizzo, who attended Indiana University with the director, bring back the nostalgic days of high school hoops in Indiana, when the state tournament dominated the local news and the youngsters who won were lionized as heroes (since 1997 small schools are not allowed in the big tournament). If that weren't enough, there's a beguiling fictitious background story about a troubled coach who gambles that by hiring the town drunk, once a local hoop star, he can turn his disappointing team into winners by tapping into his basketball knowledge as another resource.

Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) is a belligerent middle-age man with a dark secret. He's a gifted ex-college coach, who in 1951 accepts a lowly job at the high school in Hickory, Indiana (in real-life Milan High School), for some mysterious reason. This gets sullen spinster high school English teacher Myra Feener (Barbara Hershey) wondering what he's running away from. In any case, the unsympathetic turned sympathetic teach becomes the coach's love interest in a prickly relationship that sees them taking long walks together. Dale's most bold move, outside of being a Bobby Knight-like disciplinarian, is to hire Shooter (Dennis Hopper), the town drunk and father of one of the players on the team, as his assistant, aiming to also resurrect his life and take advantage of his connection with the kids on the team and his tremendous instinctual knowledge of the game.

After so much soap opera nonsense in its fictional story, it leads to the all-white Hickory team, made up of hick farm boys, getting into the state tournament and meeting in the 1954 Indiana high-school championship game the all-black perennial powerhouse city school (Muncie, the real-life school)--setting up the classic David-vs.-Goliath contest.

The film in its best moments celebrates a by-gone era, in its worst moments is a banal exercise in exploiting the childish passion the American public has for going overboard in their hero worship of sports figures. This film is so successful because it's effective in giving the public what it wants from its undemanding sports story and, despite my minority opinion, resonates with a public that seemingly can't get enough of such well-made mush.

REVIEWED ON 6/3/2010       GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"