Hotshot

Hotshot is pretty obviously an excuse to provide work for soccer great Pele, by stringing together some rah-rah soccer sequences and a few nice shots of Brazil. As such, it’s predictable and formulaic, but pretty palatable for all that.

Pele, the retired greatest soccer player ever, plays the retired greatest soccer player ever. Listen, until he’s up to A Long Day’s Journey into Night, why not? This character is living alone in a secluded house on the coast of Brazil, but his quiet life is interrupted by a brash young American (Jim Youngs) who seeks the wisdom of the master.

We find out in flashback that Youngs has just made a professional New York team, only to be suspended for two months because of personality problems. Translation: He’s a jerk, and the coach and his teammates are tired of him.

Youngs asks Pele for help. But the great one has sworn off soccer, forever. This lack of interest, of course, has simply been added by a screenwriter to add “conflict.” Before long, Pele is flashbacking to his glory days, where we see classic shots of Pele – oops, I mean his character, heh heh – making magic with the round ball. Naturally, at the end of the two months’ training, Youngs has matured and is ready to return to New York in full bloom.

Some of the plot conceits here are classic. Make that ancient: Youngs’ parents are rich so he must deny them and make it on his own; his best buddy on the team is paralyzed on the field and inspires a Gipperesque finale; and another teammate is closing out a brilliant career.

There’s no doubt about where any of this is going, but somehow director Rick King and his cast make it all reasonably easy to take. Youngs, who resembles a younger, less tortured Christopher Walken, is an acceptable screen presence, and Pele has no problems.

Most of his acting involves bouncing a ball off his feet or head, and this he does very well. He also gets to re-create one of his most famous shots: the flip-over-and-kick-the-ball-into-the-goal-while-you’re-on-your-back-in-midair shot. Darned if it isn’t still impressive, even allowing for rehearsals and retakes.

First published in The Herald, January 1987

Director King also made Prayer for the Rollerboys and did the original story for Point Break. Jim Youngs is the younger brother of John Savage; he’d been in The Wanderers and Footloose, and of course a key role in the immortal Out of Control. The cast includes Penelope Ann Miller in her first bigscreen part, Rutanya Alda, and Mario Van Peebles.

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