Steve Tevere (Mitch Gaylord) used to be a promising athlete, with a high school career that seemed set for greater things. However, around the time he left he decided to pack that in and go to work in a motorcycle repair shop, much to the frustration of the coaches and indeed his little brother Mikey (R.J. Willams), who looked up to him. Problems at home and with his volatile father (John Aprea) are the issue, especially as he broke Steve's arm during a fight, but there are international gymnastics championships coming up that, now he is healed, he could be competing in. When a new girl, Julie Lloyd (Janet Jones) comes to town to audition for the American team, she draws Steve back in...
Gaylord was one of the stars of the 1984 Olympics, winning medals and doing his country proud, therefore in the same way as anyone with a music recording career was snapped up for a leading role in a movie (a trend that has never really gone away), he was recruited to bring his physicality to the big screen. There were two cash-in movies for gymnastics fans in the mid-eighties, the other being Kurt Thomas's camp classic Gymkata, but that was an action flick and American Anthem was assuredly about the ins and outs of the official competitions. That said, it was no less camp, and after flopping hard in '86, built a following of bad movie fans (as well as sincere fans of the star).
His name as well as his specialisation appeared to be a problem for the movie's producers. He was a magnificent physical specimen, you had to admit, but his choice of gymnastics was not the most macho of sports, and the film was at pains to emphasise there was nothing, repeat nothing, gay about this. So we open with Steve welding a bike, like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, because as with everything else about him there's no more heterosexual activity than motorbike riding, to the extent that the impression is they would rather he stuck with that than the acrobatics he actually participates in. So antsy are they that Gaylord would be seen as gay (he wasn't) that it has an effect.
That effect being the "methinks he doth protest too much" school of manly men, where our star, who was no actor and spends the movie with a quizzical look on his face, as well he might, seems to be overcompensating throughout. His choice of practice area is a bar between a couple of trees in a forest, lest working out in a gym be regarded as a little wussy, he smokes in early scenes until the film twigs that is ridiculous even for this, and he has sex with Julie in a coy scene but at least we know he has it in him to make love to a beautiful woman like a "real man". In essence, this took gymmastics as seriously as Sylvester Stallone took arm wrestling in Over the Top, and it lingered over lithe, muscular bodies in much the same manner as many an action item that involved fighting and guns.
The only "guns" you would glimpse here were the ones on the arms of the athletes, but as you can tell from the title, the credibility of the United Goddam States of America was at stake here, yes, sporting medals had been won, but some of those sports were likely to have sand kicked in their faces had they been in the vicinity of a beach. The notion that they could kick ass in reaction was key to American Anthem, and it all ended with Steve and Julie (who in a subplot must decide whether to use none more bland synth rock for her floor event, composed by her leg brace-wearing cousin who comes across as a bit too invested in this) competing for a place in the finals in front of a hysterical crowd who literally cheer everything. With a reliance on cliché that becomes absurd within seconds of the Statue of Liberty showing up under the opening credits, this tried so hard it pulled a cinematic muscle and as a result made for a very decent comedy. The part where Steve is so powerful that he crashes into the judges after spinning through the air was particularly amusing. Music by Alan Silvestri.