The Popcornomicon

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Tuff Turf (1985)

Tuff Turf (1985)

Back of the box...

“In the shadows cast by Hollywood’s bright lights lies the dark and violent underside of Los Angeles—Tuff Turf—the mean streets where Nick Hauser (Paul Mones, ‘Streets of Fire’ and ‘Warriors’), his girlfriend Frankie (Kim Richards, ‘Assault on Precinct 13’), and his gang, the Tuffs, reign supreme. That is, until Morgan Hiller (James Spader, ‘Endless Love’) moves to town.
Morgan, with his history of trouble and his cool, rebellious attitude, is immediately confronted with the reality of his stark and sometimes brutal new world. One just doesn’t step between Nick and Frankie or between the Tuffs and their prey without paying the price.
But on the streets Morgan learns hard and fast—learns the value of self-reliance and guts and learns the violent consequences of tangling with the highly volatile Nick Hauser. Most of all, he learns the power and depth of his love for Frankie—a love which must ultimately lead to a head-on confrontation with Nick Hauser and to Morgan Hiller’s moment of truth!
Tuff Turf also stars Olivia Barash (‘Repo Man’), Panchito Gomez (‘Max Dugan Returns’), Robert Downey (‘First Born’), Michael Wyle (‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ and ‘Valley Girls’). Released theatrically in 1985.”

Director: Fritz Kiersch
Starring: James Spader, Kim Richards, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Mones

Watch the Trailer

James Spader as a good guy? Robert Downey Jr. playing drums for Jim Carroll? And Kim Richards isn’t drunk with a cart full of shit she stole from Target? Things sure have changed since 1985’s Tuff Turf; a story of class struggle, youth rebellion, and forbidden romance.

In his first starring role, James Spader plays Morgan Hiller, a former rich kid troublemaker who gets off to a rough start after moving from a country club life in Connecticut to the “Tuff Turf” of Los Angeles. After a run-in with The Tuffs—a local gang whose tag looks like it was drawn by the 8-year-old who probably wrote the film—Morgan falls in love with the gang leader’s girlfriend, Frankie (Richards). He also makes fast friends with Jimmy (Downey Jr.), classmate and drummer for local Jim Carroll fronted rock band, Tail from the Crypt. Sadly, he doesn’t have much to do in the film and you’ll find yourself regularly asking “I wonder what Jimmy’s up to” whenever he’s not on screen, at least we did.

Tuff Turf is a LONG movie! Seriously, an hour and 50 minute runtime and at least half of that is just pointless 80’s hijinks. Rumor has it, the movie had to be edited down so it wouldn’t end up as a double VHS. Could you imagine, the Tuff Turf double cassette sitting on your shelf next to Schindler’s List and Spartacus? That’s a joke, obviously, but that had to be the cleanest editing room floor in history.

Tuff Turf is a fun, over the top 80’s “action / drama” that reminds us, the decade wasn’t always perfect. Some of the decade specific gimmicks start to become painful upon repetition, and believe us they do repeat. The film spends at least half it’s run time on these gimmicks, leaving the story just puttering around while our characters stumble from one dance number to another. And yes, we’re sure licensing songs for movies is pricey but you’re not getting more bang for your buck by playing every single one in its entirety. We’ll give the movie a pass on The Jim Carroll Band song “People Who Died,” though.

We give this movie a hard time, but it’s only out of love for the actors, genre, and decade. Consider us connoisseurs of 80’s teen drama, we’ve seen a lot of them and hold them to a high standard. At times the movie feels like a rough draft for 1986’s Thrashin’, minus the skateboards, and other times it seems to foreshadow later Spader films with its forbidden romance on the wrong-side-of-the-tracks theme. Nitpicky criticisms aside, if you like 80’s cheese and wanna see a young Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader in countless musical montages, then you’ll probably LOVE Tuff Turf.

Watch the Full Movie

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