Dean Youngblood (Rob Lowe) wants one thing in life: to be a professional ice hockey player, and he thinks he has the skills to achieve that aim. He works with his brother on his father’s farm, and when he tells them he wishes to leave, he is met with opposition for there is a lot to do there that three people could do better than two, yet his brother persuades his father that Dean should be given a chance, since more likely than not he will be back on the farm in a matter of a couple of weeks with his tail between his legs. Dean isn’t so sure, but he is happy to be heading off to the Junior League Hamilton Mustangs who desperately need a talented player – could he fit the bill and prove himself capable?
The best ice hockey movie had arguably been made when Paul Newman starred in the raucous comedy Slap Shot about ten years before this was released, or that was the general consensus until Seann William Scott led Goon to be one of the best depictions of the sport since the nineteen-seventies, if not the best hands down. Those two emphasised the comedy elements to great effect, yet in Youngblood we were supposed to take the whole thing deadly seriously, and any humour came from the players’ boorish behaviour more often than not, which in truth wasn’t too hilarious unless the overbearing sight of Patrick Swayze leading his teammates to shave Rob Lowe’s pubic hair was your idea of fun.
But what would an eighties action flick be without a degree of homoeroticism? All that male bonding was par for the course, and Lowe and Swayze’s characters finally saw eye to eye in a heart to heart later on which spoke to the great affection that had built between them. However, before you start thinking we had a Tom Cruise in Top Gun situation brewing where the whole thing looks incredibly homosexual to modern views, Lowe did at least convince in the scenes where he took to romancing the coach’s daughter, Jessie (Cynthia Gibb), which this being the eighties featured nudity for them both in a way that twenty-first century movies shied away from, thus making it a favourite on home video way back when.
Not that it was a particularly big hit otherwise, it just looked too earnest and humourless, not to mention the plot that would have been a major shock to see Dean’s team do anything but win the championship against the odds, which in a film like this were stacked against anyone who didn’t have Lowe and Swayze on their side. And who was this as their French Canadian goalie? Why, it was Keanu Reeves labouring under an ill-advised accent which thankfully he only had a handful of lines to deliver with. Reeves was cast because he had actual ice hockey experience, in goal as well, whereas the other actors did not aside from the genuine players stunt cast to fill out the ranks for further authenticity and to butter up the potential audience who would be more interested in seeing this.
Which led us to the main issue, which was Rob Lowe, who was no skater and didn’t especially convince us he was in what scenes we saw of him taking to the ice. He was fine in the lovey-dovey bits with Gibb, they made a nice couple, and when his landlady Fionnula Flanagan takes rather a liberty with him by bedding the young man within minutes of him arriving at the boarding house, after a nice cup of tea that was, it was a memorable aspect in a film really needing them. Otherwise, Dean’s rivalry with the big bad team (who dress all in black, just to make their evil clear) was less believable in that he had to battle their biggest baddest player Racki (George J. Finn) after Swayze is beaten up by him on the ice; you could accept the Swayze being a match for him, but no matter that Dean has to train back at the farm after a crisis of confidence which almost kills the story stone dead, we find it difficult to swallow that merely being taught to pull a jumper over his opponent’s head would be sufficient to best a bruiser like Racki. But it was Hollywood, and Youngblood was as much a fantasy as any of it. Music by William Orbit.