Blu-ray Review: Tuff Turf | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, January 25th, 2020  

Tuff Turf

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Jul 22, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

New to Los Angeles, teen Morgan Hiller (James Spader) has adjusted to a modest lifestyle since his father lost his job, big house on the Long Island Sound, and country club membership. Morgan’s been bounced from one expensive prep school to another, his reputation as a troublemaker following him to his new, considerably less posh public high school. Morgan is your stereotypical ‘80s movie cool kid, who wears a black leather jacket and walks to his own beat. His natural inclination to play only by his own rules leads him to rub up the wrong way against a local gang leader, Nick, whose girlfriend Frankie (Kim Richards, future Real Housewife and former Disney kid star) Morgan unwisely develops a crush on.

Tuff Turf seems at first like your average ‘80s high school Romeo & Juliet tale with a vigilante twist, but it’s full of moments which reveal there’s something much weirder at play here. The film’s gritty tone is tossed out the window again and again when all semblance of reality is repeatedly set aflame. An entire punk club breaks into choreographed dance at one point as Morgan pursues the disinterested Frankie through a sea of flailing arms and legs. Later, our hero woos her with a romantic song and for almost three minutes Tuff Turf is an oldschool Hollywood musical. Perhaps weirdest of all, Frankie takes Morgan to her favorite ‘60s R&B revival club and shows off her dance moves. She traipses over tables and the bar, does fanciful flips across railings, climbs into the go-go cages and spins like a top on the cleared dance floor. It’s akin to the “Tequila” scene from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, as the club patrons and house band cheer her on the whole time. (Richards’ dance double is hilariously obvious through this entire scene, the ridiculously huge permed wig doing little to hide that it’s a different woman performing these agile stunts.) Tonally, Tuff Turf is very bizarre to say the least—it’s a movie where a gruesome death is immediately followed by characters having a laugh-filled dance party.

Still, it’s a lot of fun, and well-made. There are several very cool locations, particularly a warehouse used to store billboards where the film’s climax takes place. The editing is fast-paced and frequently set to music, a rare early example where music video-style edits have a positive effect on the film’s visuals. Many odd ‘50s stylizations—Spader’s leather and sunglasses, all of the throwback musical performances and dance styles—make the movie feel like a throwback to the sort of teenage delinquency flicks that were produced by Roger Corman or AIP roughly 25 years earlier. And overall the young cast is very good, in particular a babyfaced Robert Downey (billed 8th, certainly for the final time billed so lowly in his career) as Morgan’s aloof, punk rocker sidekick.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release includes a commentary track by director Fritz Kiersch, who also helmed 1984’s Children of the Corn and the first Gor movie in 1987. Kiersch has spent a lot of time in recent years working as a film professor and it shows in how he approaches his commentary track. The tone is almost educational, addressing issues that he had during production and elaborating on the decisions he made on set. It’s not quite as rich with warm anecdotes as the many filmmakers who slip on their nostalgia sunglasses to talk about their early works, but it is a very good breakdown of how the movie was made for its low budget and how extra production value was squeezed out at every opportunity. It’s especially interesting when Kiersch goes into the numerous disagreements with his producer and studio, explaining where he was forced to give in, where he stood his ground, and how he was able to compromise on certain things—with no bitterness in his voice, a nice change of pace.


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