Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Reader Recommendation: Side Out (1990)

As recommended by Matt at Direct To Video Connoisseur

Wow, another C Thomas Howell flick. I almost turned this down seeing how I just got done reviewing him in The Sweeper. But then when I started watching this I realised The Sweeper was Howell in action mode, whereas this is Howell in comedy/drama mode so there was enough variation that I wouldn't be covering the same ground. Who knew the guy was such a versatile actor? Certainly not me, as I said in my last review I can only remember him in The Hitcher and ET. Oh and that horribly un-PC movie Soul Man where he blacks up to get into college.

Anyway, back to the plot. Howell plays Monroe Clark, a graduate from Milwaukee who's taken a summer job working for his Uncle Max's (Terry Kiser) law firm in LA. His first order of business is to evict Zack Barnes (Peter Horton), a one time volleyball prodigy who's fallen on hard times, from his beach front property. However, he finds Barnes is more slippery than he looks and quickly get side tracked playing volleyball with his wacky friend (TM) Wiley on the beach instead of working. Before long Monroe and Zack form an unlikely friendship and he ends up coaching the two guys for the upcoming volleyball championships. But when Wiley breaks his arm, Zack is forced to make the decision of a lifetime - should he step back into the game he left behind so many years ago?

Ah man, I'm a complete sucker for a good underdog sports movie. Sure, they all have the same plot beats - character loses, character trains, character wins - but I fall for them every time. It's one of life's rich ironies that I actively hate 99% of sports but like 99% of sports movies. I think its because in Rocky, Karate Kid, No Retreat No Surrender or Dodgeball I get a narrative to cling on to - the background on the athletes, the unseen story of them training - which you never really get in real life. Anyway, Side Out has all these cliches but it hits them so squarely and with such conviction that you can't help but like it. Also Side Out holds the honour of being one of the only movies about beach volleyball so you've got little choice if you want to watch a good beach volleyball movie.

Side Out is pitched somewhere between a comedy and a drama and feels very 80s considering it came out in 1990. Howell was really good as Monroe and made the character super likeable for the most part. There just one bit in the erratic middle act where he suddenly becomes an dick and gets his friend's arm broken that felt way out of character. The support was also great; Kiser makes for a great bad guy and Horton gives the role of Barnes some much needed pathos. It doesn't hurt that you get to see Courtney Thorne-Smith (who plays Monroe's on/off girlfriend Samantha) spend most of the movie wearing not a lot either. The only character that let it down was Christopher Rydell as Wiley, who was clearly trying to channel the great zany sidekicks of past 80s movies like Stiles from Teen Wolf or Duckie from Pretty in Pink, but didn't quite cut it as memorable or zany enough.

Got to congratulate the makers of Side Out on a great 90s soundtrack. Who knew Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" would make such a great training montage song (that's going on my running ipod mix). One thing I do have to question is the re-purposing of Kenny Loggins' song "Playing with the Boys". As I'm sure we're all aware that timeless power ballad was originally written for and used over the volleyball segment in Top Gun. I'm not sure what the idea was re-using it here (over an early match). Homage? (Possibly, as one of the opponents does have a flat top hairstyle like Iceman) Rip-off? Either way it invites unfavourable (and unnecessary) comparisons so I've got to knock a point off for that.

The other negative I've got is that Terry Kiser drops out of the film at the halfway point after making a speech about how Monroe will waste his life by not being a big shot lawyer like him. That's a nice anti-corporate lifestyle message but I would have liked his character to somehow turn up at the volleyball game at the end and witness his nephew win big. Ah, damn it I've gone and spoilt the ending haven't I? Damn. Sorry... oh, who am I kidding, of course he wins the game.

So there you have it. You want to see lots of scantily clad women? You want to see the redemptive character arc of Zack Barnes? You want to see a lot of C Thomas Howell's upper torso? You want to see the breathless atmosphere of volleyball captured on screen? Watch this. It's particularly effective if, like me, you watch it on a crappy rainy day. It's basically cinematic sunshine, kick back and let it brighten up your day.


To read Matt's original review click here

And as a bonus you can watch Side Out on youtube (with a few ads) at


  1. I liked C. Thomas Howell in E.T., The Hitcher, and Gettysburg (I haven't seen Soul Man, heh) but feel bad for him since it seems that he has been in a ton of direct to video or made for TV movies since the 90s. He apparently will be in this summer's Amazing Spider-Man in a small role.
    My favorite trivia about Howell is that he was considered to play Marty McFly after the studio couldn't get Michael J. Fox out of his Family Ties contract. However they went with Eric Stoltz who was later fired and Fox became available and the rest is history. Although Fox was perfect in the role I wonder if they would not have gone so far as to re-cast if they had Howell instead of Stoltz. Would be an interesting alternate universe!
    Anyway nice review. I am guessing the next one will not be a C. Thomas Howell movie?!

  2. Yeah, I kinda feel sorry for Howell too. He was involved in a lot of those cheap mockbuster Asylum flicks recently like War of the Worlds 2 and The Day the Earth Stopped. Glad to hear he finally got another big screen role even if it is a tiny cameo.

    Did not that he was up for Marty McFly. I can kind of see that working if it had happened. He's actually quite a charismatic actor.

    Yeah, the next one's something a bit more high brow than Side Out.

  3. Oh man, I remember this one fondly. Just one of those that would play endlessly during the summer on HBO. lol. Good memories. :)

    Great review buddy!

  4. Yeah, it's given me a new appreciation for Howell... and volleyball.