Blue Chips (1994)

"A foul is not a foul until the referee blows his whistle." - Alfre
Woodard to Nick Nolte

Hurrah!  Hurrah!  Once-upon-a-time wunderkind Bill Friedkin is back and
with a subject that hits, at here in North Carolian, *very* close to
home. With an assist from basketballsy writer Ron Shelton, Friedkin's
first film in four is a exciting but easy examination of illegal
recruiting practices in college basketball.

BLUE CHIPS introduces Pete Bell (Nick Nolte), the dedicated coach of the
Western University Dolphins. The team has just wrapped its first losing
season and Bell is upset, to the say the least. He knows that his team
is doing their best, but he needs better players-- boys they can't
recruit because *he* won't play "dirty pool." Pressured by everyone from
the alumni to his athletic director, Bell confronts this issue to build
a strong "starting line" for the upcoming season.

BLUE CHIPS is a frantically charged film. True to Friedkin form,
*everything* stays in motion. Bill films basketball like he was born for
it and even his off-court scenes have an infectious energy. He also
pulls a powerhouse performance from Nolte, who spends the entire film
wrestling with his conscious more than with his players. Nolte's best
scene comes early, when he punts a basketball into the stands after
losing a fight with a ref.

Less successful is Shelton's script and how it oversimplifies illegal
recruiting. The characters have depth, but not the story. The ending is
unusually good for a sports film, though. BLUE CHIPS favors fair-play
instead of feel-good and it's a welcome change. Even *with* a soapbox
speech at the end.

The rest of the cast is a scattershot mix.

Mary McDonnell gives a mediocre performance as Bell's basketball-smart
ex-wife. And there's barely any chemistry between her and Nolte. The
ever-leering J.T. Walsh hangs out the ham, again, as an boorish booster.
And seven-foot, four-inch "Shaq" O'Neal makes an appealing freshman

(Six-foot, one-inch "Ed" O'Neill is wasted as an investigative reporter,
though. But his inclusion may be nothing more than a simple joke-- if
memory serves, O'Neill once played a TV version of "Popeye" Doyle!)

For basketball fans, BLUE CHIPS is a fountain of familiar faces. Larry
Bird, Bob Cousy, Jerry Tarkanian, and, yes, Dick Vitale, are just some
of the good sports who appear in the film.  (Rated "PG-13"/108 min.)

BOTTOM LINE:  As a morality play on college recruiting, BLUE CHIPS
scores about 3 out of 5 from the free-throw line. But, for fans of both
Nick Nolte and William Friedkin, it's a winner.

Grade: B+

Copyright 1994 by Michael J. Legeros

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