The screenwriting credit on "Side Out" (citywide) is given to David Thoreau--but this movie is no "Walden." Centering on a volleyball tourney that brings together a seemingly washed up Santa Monica beach star (Peter Horton) and a brash visitor from Milwaukee (C. Thomas Howell), it's one more story about digging down and breaking through, about sports, teamwork, love, dedication and beating impossible odds.
If you were watching Loyola Marymount's recent run in the NCAA basketball tournament, you saw all these themes unfolding, in real life. If you're gullible, you might even find them, slicked up and shticked out, in this movie.
"Side Out" is set in one of the Los Angeles area's most photogenic sites: the strip of beach by the Santa Monica Pier, rolling south toward Venice, on the oceanside volleyball courts. Hundreds of movies stage scenes on the freeways and on Hollywood Boulevard, dozens more around Century City. Why don't more of them pick this area? The sand is a pale golden field under an immense sky; the ocean crashes majestically against the scooped-out shore; it's a terrific movie backdrop. The filmmakers have the sense to stage as much action down there as possible, but even though director Peter Israelson and cinematographer Ron Garcia get some of its value, they don't get enough.
Who can blame them? They're trapped in a story that keeps rolling out all the old "beat-the-odds" stereotypes. They're also trapped in all those zap-the-eye film-making techniques that make many new movies look like a festival of TV beer commercials. Once again, two mismatched buddies come together: Monroe Clarke (Howell), hired by his slick cad of a real-estate lawyer uncle to evict poor people from their homes, and Zack Barnes (Horton) ex-volleyball great and compulsive gambler, who's one of the evictees.
Screenwriter Thoreau isn't leery of cliches. People keep calling Monroe "farm boy," although Milwaukee is hardly rural. Thoreau also brings in a zany buddy, a Gypsy cab driver in a customized hearse (Christopher Rydell as "the wily Wiley"), plus a few villains, a cocktail waitress sweetheart (Courtney Thorne-Smith) and enough jiggling bikinis to make an undulating blanket over Malibu beach. People keep making love or playing volleyball to rock 'n' roll; this is one of those movies where the world seems to be under a huge Walkman set.
A number of actual volleyball players figure here, including Steve Timmons. And it would be hard to imagine better physical casting for the washed-out legend role than Peter Horton. He looks like a cross between Bjorn Borg and Sean Penn's Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," and he moves with the lazy, slightly hyper motions of an athlete going to seed. Director Israelson also juices up a number of scenes; the actors grin incessantly and use lots of body English and verbal embroidery to put their phony lines across.
But when "Side Out" gets to its "meat"--intercutting the beach with the law firm, intercutting frantic lovemaking with a tough volleyball loss, intercutting the beach with life, intercutting bikinis with more bikinis--we know we're dealing with shameless button-pressers. Life is a beach, someone said. In "Side Out" (MPAA rated PG-13 despite nudity, lovemaking and rough language), that might pass for profound metaphysics or a life-changing insight. Spike it.