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Top Fifty Sports Movies of All Time: #49 American Flyers

Ted Danson thinks about reaching for a pistol.
Ted Danson thinks about reaching for a pistol.

Before there was Lance Armstrong, Greg Lemond or even the Tour de France as far as the US was concerned, there was the Hell of the West with a porn-stached Kevin Costner and his little brother taking on the Russians and an even more evil Team 7-11 led by a Ted Danson look-alike. I imagine this was the pitch that was taken to the studios.

Basically, anyone who had HBO4 in the late 80's and 90's probably saw this one anywhere from 5-60 times as it's highly rewatchable. Released in 1985, I have to assume that it played somewhere in theaters since IMDB shows a box office of $1.4 million, but VHS and cable were probably already cutting their deals before its only week in there was up. In the end, it all adds up to a spot at #49 on the Top Fifty Sports Movies list.

Before we jump in though, let's check out a sports flick that just missed the top 50:


This was no classic, but it was far from bad. Pacino is in full force still playing the blind, psychotic colonel from Scent Of A Woman (as he did for almost every movie after that) and that's perfect for a pro football coach. Jamie Foxx and Dennis Quaid are both talented and athletic enough to pull off their parts. But this isn't a movie you watch again from beginning to end, just too many lulls. One of the main reasons it gets a pass is that I remember it as being one of the first sports movies, especially football,where everything is shot in TIGHT, and most of the time you can't tell what the hell anyone's field position is. How tough should that be?

However, it does have its gems and one of my favorites is James Woods' rant at Pacino and Matthew Modine about keeping players on the field, not to mention his deft touch with the ladies. Check it out when you have a minute - I don't think we'll be seeing it on any NFL Films highlights anytime soon.

The other quite simply is one of the three greatest movie coach pre-game speeches of all time and the only one not to find itself in a Top 50 selection. It's vintage Al Pacino and never mind that his Sharks are so inspired that they charge out and watch Barry Switzer's boys return the opening kickoff for six.


Now on to the Hell of The West....


SUMMARY: David Sommers, played by shoulda-been but never-was an 80's heartthrob David Grant, is living the sweet life in St. Louis staying at his mom's place rent-free and being hit on by models she represents. He can't seem to commit to any one school or field of study and has time to ride hundreds of miles on his bike while keeping McDonald's restaurants in the background for product placement. Then it turns out his big brother is Kevin Costner.

Hmmm...he lacks focus, but is in unbelievable riding shape. Kevin Costner's his brother. McDonald's has already appeared in the background 30 or 40 times. Could it be his life's about to change?

So it's off to some sports institute with big brother Marcus (Costner) which is run by the dad from Good Times. Lots of storyline here, either one, both or neither of the brothers might have some fatal disease which killed their dad, and mom couldn't take it, so Costner hates her. It hasn't stopped him from shacking up with a smoking hot Rae Dawn Chong though. They try to set David up with super cute twit Jennifer Grey (yep, that one) which inexplicably pisses him off and makes her cry. We also learn that Costner coulda won the big race but he quit at the finish against 7-11 teammate, "The Cannibal", the Ted Danson lookalike who revels in being a complete dick. Except when he's being nice or attempting to murder David (more on that later).

The big record at the sports institute is seeing who can run up the Ivan Drago incline treadmill the longest and Costner has held it for years until David about blows a lung breaking it. Take that, Crash. Also, the Good Times dad has to whip his son, the Token Fat Kid (YESSS!!), into shape.

Since one of them might be dying, Costner of course convinces David that they should enter the extremely dangerous Hell of the West race in Colorado, so they ride and train their way there with Rae Dawn driving the van. Along the way, David meets Lt. Holden, in McDonald's of course. She's a cute hippie wandering the country with a couple of dirty, granola-chomping hippies, and she ditches them to become part of Team Costner and take her shirt off a few times. Of course, she is now crucial to the storyline.

So, the big race is on, danger, excitement, tragedy(?) and good racing ensue, and it goes down to the wire to see if one of the Somers brothers will ever finish higher than 2nd in their lifetime. Gosh, I wonder if they pull it off?

QUALITY OF SPORTS SCENES: Quite simply top-notch. The racing scenes are fantastic, the actors are all in good enough shape that they pass for bikers. (except for the Russian, he looks like a short pudgy Vlade Divacs who blazes through a four packs a day. No shock that he packs it in at every climb or sprint)  Having announcers chime in makes for a great job of explaining what's going on to biking novices. David running across the line with his bike after it breaks is a nice touch. And I liked very much that they knew not to have a sprint to the finish at the end, but rather that likely someone would have a timed lead that would need to be overcome. Watching Evil Ted Danson (ETD) race the clock had as much suspense as a head-to-head. I'm assuming that they took a lot of aerial shots from the actual Hell of the West race, because there's a full pelleton in  many shots. Very realistic overall - in fact...
Grade: ***** Osborne

THE BAD GUY(S) - No time wasted figuring this out. Luca Bercovici as Barry "The Cannibal" Muzzen is groundbreaking. He makes dire threats about opponents, cusses female reporters and says things like "Enough of this Sunday stroll. Let's HURT a little!!" When David refuses to concede the race to him, he overreacts slightly by trying to shoulder him down the mountainside. He growls and grunts some for good measure too. Penalty points for showing concern for Costner after he gets a bloody nose and wipes out although attempted murder in a bike race scores one back.
Grade: **** Devaney

MUSIC - No memorable songs except for the hilarious "American Flyers" playing over the credits. The score isn't great, but it isn't terrible. Think Rocky meets Tangerine Dream meets John Tesh. Ominous when it needs to be. Passable overall and I don't mean that as an insult.
Grade: *** Pelini

THE LOVE INTEREST - Two leads means two babes and they're top-notch. Rae Dawn Chong wears short shorts, supports her man, takes no crap from anyone and threatens to bash Cannibal's head in with a rock. Alexandra Paul is cute, goofy, up for anything and takes her shirt off (did I mention that?). Bonus points for being a hippie.
Grade: **** Devaney

ADRENALINE/GOOSEBUMP SCENES - The Drago treadmill record-breaking scene is good and lets you know the kid is for real. Each stage of the race its moments. For stage 1, I'd take the aforementioned bike carrying scene as David tries to nail down 50th place and make the cut. In stage 2, I especially enjoy him taking the all the time bonus flags. And the last climb in Stage 3 where he and Muzzin break the Russian followed by him fighting off the murder attempt kept me on the edge of my seat. But somehow, this movie had great sports scenes without loads of goosebumps. Maybe distance cycling is just boring?
Grade: ** Solich

First off, you have to respect director John Badham for throwing in a Fat Kid. He serves no purpose to the plot except to do fat kid things like complain about working out, sneak candy bars, dream of being a bowler and throw water all over himself to fake sweating. Very inspired. I also enjoyed Costner siccing a pit bull after his brother to snap at him while riding. Ho ho ho. The main guys and girls are all smart asses. Not bad at all.
Grade: *** Pelini

UNINTENTIONAL COMEDY: Not much although Bercovici does his best to sweep two categories by going over the top as The Cannibal and also looking like Ted Danson.
Grade: ** Solich

THE TRAINING MONTAGE - Basically they ride around on two lane highways although they do take time out to race cowboys on horses. It has more of a road trip feel than a "Rocky charges up the museum steps" vibe. It's a little different in that regard and I liked it.
Grade: *** Pelini

REWATCHABILITY - Surprisingly high. I was always in for another viewing when in was on Showtime 2 or HBO4. When I saw it in the $5 DVD bin a few years ago, I didn't hesitate for a second. Also, I figure if I watch it enough, I'll find out who's gonna die. Is it David, since Costner and Amos were so somber after viewing his brain scan? Or is it Costner since he got a bloody nose, acted dizzy and crashed. Or is the forgettable mom going to be planting two more boxes after the credits roll?
Grade: **** Devaney

OVERALL - Although he's far from a big name these days, John Badham was a name in the 80's as a director. Flyers may have bombed at the box office, but after directing Saturday Night Fever, he had a nice little run with Dracula, Blue Thunder, Wargames, Short Circuit and Stakeout. I can't quite give it a Devaney, but it deserves better than three stars.
Grade: ***1/2 Pelini Plus

50: MIGHTY DUCKS - gets the nod over the near misses for being a hockey movie
48: next

And for those of you who just want to skip to movie's ending with Dutch(?) subtitles: