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  Tuff Turf Spader-Man, Spader-Man, Does Whatever A Spader Can
Year: 1985
Director: Fritz Kiersch
Stars: James Spader, Kim Richards, Paul Mones, Matt Clark, Claudette Nevins, Robert Downey Jr, Olivia Barash, Panchito Gómez, Michael Wyle, Catya Sassoon, Francis X. McCarthy, Art Evans, Herb Russell, Ceil Cabot, Donald Fullilove, Jim Carroll
Genre: Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is late at night in this district of Los Angeles and new boy in town Morgan Hiller (James Spader) is riding his bicycle around the streets aimlessly. There is a gang of kids up ahead, one of whom, Frankie (Kim Richards), approaches a man on his own and asks him for change for five dollars, then starts coming on to him - except she has ulterior motives as the rest of her friends descend on him and demand his wallet. However, Morgan suddenly rides into the middle of this and sprays beer over the thugs, giving the man a chance to get away and leader Nick (Paul Mones) a new enemy...

Back in the eighties, it was as if the rash of teen movies being released had been inspired by viewings of late night broadcasts of Rebel Without a Cause, as they all adopted the misunderstood young hero immortalised by James Dean as a template for their heroes. In among those Karate Kids and Footlooses was Tuff Turf, brought to you by Fritz Kiersch, the man who had unleashed the Children of the Corn on the world the previous year: this could easily have been dubbed the Children of the Corny, as it apparently could not make up its mind whether it was a gritty street drama or West Side Story.

At first, it looks like we're in for rumbles and random violence as Morgan arrives in school only to find that Nick and company are planning their revenge, and do so by spraying his shades with red paint and running over his bicycle with their muscle car. But as we have seen Morgan shooting a couple of cockroaches with deadly accuracy courtesy of his dart gun, we are well aware that he is not your ordinary victim of the bullies, and getting his own back may well be interesting for the audience. He has a backstory which details how he has come from a privileged area of Connecticut, but his family have moved to this poorer area of L.A. (his father lost his job) so he can go to a state school.

Morgan has been thrown out of those higher class establishments of learning for troublemaking, but soon he is back in the thick of it, not least because he takes a shine to Frankie, and Nick is understandably peeved. Initially she rejects his advances, but as he has charm and wit that her current boyfriend notably lacks, she starts to come around to the idea. Former child star Richards, with hair she must have spent hours on, was few people's idea of a tough girl from the wrong side of the tracks, not least when she breaks out into a perfectly choreographed dance routine at a nightclub Frankie and Morgan end up at, which starts you thinking, is this supposed to be a musical or something? Because if not, why so much singing and dancing?

The most notorious example of that is when Morgan takes Frankie and new friends Jimmy (Robert Downey Jr, who plays the drums for Jim Carroll topless) and Ronnie (Olivia Barash) to a posh country club, and gatecrashes the party there, where a band have been playing Twist and Shout for the past hour. After finally persuading the band to leave the stage, Morgan sits down at the piano and does his best Barry Manilow, trilling an impromptu love song to Frankie as she gazes deep into his eyes. It may show that Spader was more in his element as a preppie character, but even in 1985 it must have killed the action stone dead. Fortunately he doesn't sing again, so things revert to the violence as Morgan's father (Matt Clark) falls victim to Nick, and the story is resolved with a fight sequence that makes the one in They Live look brief. Really, Tuff Turf was all over the place, but if you had a taste for cheese you'd find it surprisingly satisfying. Music by Jonathan Elias.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Fritz Kiersch  (1951 - )

B-movie director whose first film was the Stephen King adaptation Children of the Corn. Also made the fantasy romp Gor and teen drama Tuff Turf, with James Spader.

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