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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuff Turf (1985)

The world of teen movies is equal parts strange, alluring, and also embarrassing. When we're teens we go "Yeah, this movie speaks to me!" while as adults we collectively slump in our chairs while doing a facepalm or laugh about how ridiculous it was over a pint at the bar. Either way most of them win as entertaining whether the reason is legitimate goodness or its cringe value. Lucky for you, this movie has both of these qualities.

TV trailer:

This film is interesting for having an R rating. For those of you outside the US this means that nobody under 17 is admitted without a guardian (or if you were me you knew everybody at the theater from school so they let you walk in for free regardless). This kind of movie really appeals to the 15-18 set (or as I prefer to call this age range- the tits and zits group), but giving it an R makes it sound more edgy and dangerous to mid eighties teens. Nothing spells teenage excitement like rock music, a social misfit, and girls right? Right? Thankfully this movie has nasty language, some violence, and various other mature situations to justify its MPAA grade. That being said there's still wacky "Really? They just did that?" moments befitting a teen action/drama too.

Plot synopsis: Morgan Hiller (James Spader) is a pretty smart cat. He's introduced in the opening credits in maybe the most 80's way possible, that is to say riding his ten speed bike through the city at night. He's from a formerly upper middle class family (his father lost his real estate business back east so they find themselves in LA scraping along like the rest of the people do). Morgan seems to attract trouble everywhere he goes, and when he messes with the local tough guy mini gang and starts making moves on the leader's main squeeze trouble is bound to come knocking, but will this be the end of Morgan's luck?

Okay a lot more than this happens of course but I don't necessarily want to give the whole thing away. When watching it one realizes pretty quickly that it is basically a western but set in mid 80's LA. The bad guys have a car, while our hero just has his ten speed (which they manage to ruin with their car pretty early on). This actually is rather reminiscent of the film A Fistful Of Dollars where Clint Eastwood's character rides into town not on a horse, but a mule. They ridicule him and chase off his mule. I know that is a rather tenuous connection, but if you watch it you'll see what I mean.

This movie is strangely cast. We get James Spader in his first starring role, we also get Kim Richards as the love interest (named rather androgynously Frankie). She's better known as the little girl who gets shot in the chest through her ice cream cone in John Carpenter's Assault On Precinct 13 back in 1976 and is an odd casting choice considering the greater bulk of her work was for television. Robert Downey Jr. appears in a very early role (and very confusingly not using the junior suffix) and much to my surprise Olivia Barash (who we punks immediately recognize as Otto's momentary girlfriend Leila in Repo Man).  They seemingly picked these guys and dolls from the casting calls willy nilly but it actually somehow manages to work.

If one does some research on Mr. Spader, it is said he refuses to watch any film that he appears in. I wonder if he started doing it then stopped or just never has? Yet another question I can ask a movie person should I ever meet them. Though I could definitely understand why he might not want to watch this one, especially when you have to groan out this scene:

Please don't get me started. However, I'd do it if they paid me too so I guess Spader comes up in...well...spades. Unfortunately I cannot find a clip of the really hilarious bit where Morgan and crew sneak into a country club and Olivia Barash's character Ronnie is small talking with rich bitch ladies about giving head. It was really unexpected and remains a good reason why I keep this movie on my shelf. Also a really fantastic reason is not only a cameo by the man himself but no less than three songs on the soundtrack by the Jim Carroll Band. One of which is of course his titular track People Who Died in what I believe might be its very first appearance in a movie, which both excites and ultimately confuses the ever loving shit out of me.

See, there he is:

It's now way beyond rhetorical for me to ask you this but would I lie to you? That song rips, just admit it. So yeah this movie is REALLY melodramatic but what the hell do you want out of a movie like this? Sometimes being able to guess what is going to happen next but still knowing there might be a few wrenches thrown in isn't necessarily a bad thing. So basically don't be a chump about it if you watch this, take the good with the awful and wait it out.


Okay so after the shitty abusive gang leader boyfriend is dealt with after shooting Morgan's dad and almost killing Frankie there's a big party sequence. Am I the only person who finds this troublesome? I mean sure the guy was a dangerous jerkoff and attacked a lot of people but Morgan KILLED him by tossing him off a balcony in a warehouse. I don't know about you but if I were a teenager that had killed someone no matter the context I might not quite be up to partying shortly afterward. I know I should not allow this leap in logic to annoy me considering what kind of movie this is but gimme a break just for once.


I've seen several different artworks (if one can call them that) for this film depending upon the format. The DVD I saw a picture of makes it look kind of homoerotic, don't you think? Shame on you Anchor Bay I know you can do slightly better than this.

See what I am talking about below:

Now is a good time to mention the trouble with barcodes. Whoever did the graphic design for this release obviously forgot to put it on there or maybe nobody told them to. I say this because the barcode is covering a portion of a rather dramatic image of asshole loser gang boyfriend brandishing a pistol. You think that home video box art is supposed to attract viewers by showing the drama and tension contained in a movie like this but apparently I am woefully incorrect. And no it is not a sticker it is printed on the box!


This movie is even available on Betamax, Laserdisc, and to my surprise CED (or Videodisc, for those of us in the know)! Someone had really high expectations for this movie to release it on a format that was dead less than a year after this particular CED was even marketed. But alas I digress, what I am trying to say here is that this movie is available on just about any common (either now or once wasish) format for your home viewing pleasure.


-James Spader's spade tatto on his right bicep. Yes, it's probably real.

-Kim Richards being almost cute if it weren't for the fact that she's wearing one of those annoying real skinny headbands in almost every scene and has ass length crimped hair.

-Handsome shirtless boys for the ladieez to gawk at.

-Matt Clark playing Morgan's dad (you may recognize him as the Secretary of Defense from The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension).

-The already mentioned Jim Carroll cameo

-Various embarrassing hairdon'ts/fashion choices befitting a film of this era.

-The fact that this film is known under the title of "Gang Tuff" in Poland.

Go ahead and watch it, if you think you're TUFF ENUFF.


  1. The tattoo was real. A few years later it was changed to a larger spade being peeled away layer by layer by a spider. Every time I see the newer tat in a movie I wonder what prompted that very odd subject matter. I presume he still has it today. I know on Boston Legal whenever he had his arms bare they always kept the right one away from the camera or hidden in some manner.

  2. Kim Richards is also Paris Hilton's aunt and plays an alcoholic pill popping looney toon on the Bravo reality series the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.