Who wants to see a movie named after a popular brand of synthetic grass? Notwithstanding the poorly spelled title, TUFF TURF (1985) is a sleeper classic well worth a second look. The main appeal is the pleasure of seeing James Spader playing a good guy for once. After being typecast as the demonic prom-night villain, I was surprised to see how well he looks as the gallant, dashing leading man. His character's development is quite satisfying to observe. In the opening sequence, we discover that despite his pretty face, James Spader is a scary badass. He shoots massive cockroaches crawling around his room with cap guns, rides his bike around the schoolyard security guard in annoying circles, and rocks the leather-jacket-with-popped-collar like nobody's business. However, we later learn that he can also look strangely alluring sporting his Princess Di fringe cut, that he can lip-synch like an angel, and that he will let nothing come between him and his girl. The perfect man? I think so!
When Morgan's father loses his job in Connecticut, he must forget his cushy prepster lifestyle and adjust to a ghetto school in San Fernando. He tries to mind his own business, but Nick the local goon pisses him off by stealing his precious bike and getting it crushed by a car. Time for revenge! Morgan decides to mess with Nick by putting the moves on his pretty girlfriend Frankie. She has really long hair which looks awesome when she dances. However, her clothes are scandalous even by 80's standards. It's a wonder she can walk down the street without getting arrested. Anyway, when Morgan first cuts in at a dance club Frankie tries to resist, but he doesn’t take no for an answer. He wrangles her into his car and the mismatched pair fake their way into a lame country-club party. As an added bonus, Morgan's buddy Jimmy is played by a cute young Robert Downey Jr. with beestung pout and emo mascara. He really is adorable and funny as he dazzles the square girls at the country club.
There is an oddly moving scene where Morgan seats Frankie on a grand piano and sings her a ridiculous and nonsensical song called "I Walk The Night," whatever that means. Henceforth Frankie is smashed on him good and hard and doesn't like her old boyfriend anymore. They later dance in a club with scary psychedelic decor and a band of questionable coolness called Jack Mack & The Heart Attack. I wish I was kidding. They proceed to assail our ears with heinous lounge-lizard pseudo-jazz. Thankfully, this weak portion of the sountrack is more than balanced out by Marianne Faithfull's classically dark and passionate track, "Love Hates."
Frankie table-dances and cage-dances. Did I mention she's dressed like a streetwalker? And that this seems to be like the third dance they went to in the same night? That's okay though, because Morgan and Frankie are really cute and happy together and they are so in love. But then Nick and his homeboys find out about it and beat the crap out of Morgan in the locker room. This is just the beginning of the downward spiral of extreme danger, violence, and crime resulting from Frankie’s indiscretions, leading to the inevitable grand showdown between Morgan and Nick.
Their vendetta culminates with the longest, most outrageous knock 'em down, drag 'em out fight sequence I have ever seen on film. I mean this is one for the history books. It clocks in at almost 7 minutes but somehow it felt much longer, I guess because so much stuff happens. Morgan fights Nick and his whole gang of thugs in an abandoned warehouse almost single-handedly and pulverizes them. What makes it funny is that just when you thought Nick was finished, he gets up and comes back for more. By the end he actually climbs up Morgan's pants in agony, inch by inch, as Morgan coldly looks down at him before laying him flat with one last mega-punch. It's too hilarious and almost exhausting to watch.
This film does not break any new ground, but it has no pretensions at cinematic greatness either, and therein lays its triumph. It’s simply a rollicking good time with some laughs, some tears, some violence, some excellent dance sequences, and a happy ending. Also, James Spader makes a pretty darn nice good guy. 3/5 stars.
JIMMY PLAYS DRUMS WHILE WAITING FOR MORGAN TO ARRIVE: