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Side Out (DVD Review)

3 Apr, 2014 By: John Latchem

Available via the Sony Pictures Choice Collection
Sony Pictures
$20.95 DVD
Rated ‘PG-13’
Stars C. Thomas Howell, Peter Horton, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Harley Jane Kozak, Christopher Rydell, Terry Kiser.

Combining the simplistic character beats of a teen angst comedy with the clichéd plotting of a sports movie, Side Out attempted to capitalize on the growing popularity of beach volleyball in the late 1980s.

Movie audiences had seen a glimpse of the sport in one of the more famous scenes from Top Gun, which undoubtedly inspired the filmmakers here. In fact, one of the earlier beach volleyball sequences of Side Out uses the exact same song featured in the Top Gun scene — “Playing With the Boys” by Kenny Loggins.

Though the film came out early in 1990, Side Out was something of capper for attempts in the 1980s to position C. Thomas Howell as a leading man. He had gained exposure earlier in the decade with The Outsiders and Red Dawn, and was even in the running for the role of Marty in Back to the Future.

Then in 1986 Howell starred in Soul Man, which was a box office success but generated significant controversy with its plot of a white student pretending to be black to get into Harvard, requiring Howell to wear makeup likened to the modern equivalent of blackface.

In Side Out, he plays a law student named Monroe who heads to California for a summer to clerk at a law firm run by his uncle (played by Terry Kiser, best known as the title stiff in Weekend at Bernie’s). Monroe is tasked with serving eviction notices, where he encounters Zack Barnes (Peter Horton of “Thirtysomething”), a former beach volleyball superstar who faded from the scene after refusing to take a dive in a big match.

Monroe takes up beach volleyball and after a few weeks of training with Zack they find themselves competing in a big tournament, much to the chagrin of Monroe’s uncle.

Ostensibly a comedy, the film is too timid in many of its comedic beats, and it treats the beach volleyball scenes with the sensibilities of a drama, leading to some bizarre tonal shifts. Still, there’s plenty of appeal to nostalgic movie buffs who appreciate a good dose of ’80s-style cheese.

Among the requisite romantic subplots, Zack is distracted by his ex-wife (Harley Jane Kozak), a fashion designer who wants him to lose because she has an endorsement deal with his chief rival. And Monroe strikes up a summer fling with a beach bunny played by a bikini-clad Courtney Thorne-Smith, whose attention-grabbing supporting roles in the July 1987 twofer of Summer School and Revenge of the Nerds II led into a regular role on the NBC sitcom “Day by Day” before she ended up in Side Out. Within two years, Thorne-Smith would become a household name in the 1990s as one of the stars of “Melrose Place” and “Ally McBeal.”

As for the beach volleyball craze, the movie must have been onto something. Beach volleyball was featured as a demonstration sport at the 1992 Olympics before becoming an official medal event in 1996.

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