An underrated basketball movie from writer Ron Shelton ("Tin Cup", "Bull Durham") and director William Friedkin, "Blue Chips" stars Nick Nolte as Pete Bell, coach of the Western University basketball team. After years of having winning seasons, the coach is finally facing his first losing record. The players are giving it their best, but the latest team simply isn't up to task of facing some of the league's best.
So, once the off-season hits, Coach Bell tries his hardest to get new prospects (Anfernee Hardaway, Shaquille O'Neal, and Matt Nover). The only problem is that the prospects all want something in return in order to choose Bell's school. This goes completely against everything Bell stands for - not to mention regulations - but the team needs stars, and "under the table" payoffs look to be the only route.
"Blue Chips" is interesting because, despite some instances where it uses genre staples, it's major focus is the "business" of college hoops, including some of the shady deals that are done to secure players. We do see some game footage at the beginning and end, but the focus is the backroom details that happen today when teams try to create the best team. In the case of "Blue Chips" - and in other real-life instances - sometimes people outside the dealings find out.
The performances are also terrific, and the characters engaging. Nolte delivers a typically high-intensity performance, and portrays a coach wrestling with the moral and ethical decisions that he has to face. Also good in supporting efforts are Alfre Woodard and Mary McConnell.
Paced well despite the fact that there's not a great deal of action on-the-court, "Blue Chips" is a terrifically involving and entertaining sports drama.
VIDEO: Paramount presents "Blue Chips" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a very good transfer that falls just short of being great. Sharpness and detail are generally solid, although some wide shots appear a tad soft and small object detail is sometimes a little lacking.
Some light edge enhancement was visible, but only briefly. No pixelation was noted, and the print appeared crisp and clean, with no noticable faults. Colors looked bright and vivid, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: Paramount presents the film in Dolby Digital 5.1. For a 10-year-old picture, "Blue Chips" offers some mighty nice sound design. Surrounds kick in superbly for the action on the courts, providing some very immersive crowd noise, including speaker announcements and fan cheering/booing. The other scenes are more forward-oriented and dialogue-driven, but overall, the soundtrack delivered more than I'd expected. Audio quality was fine, with clear, clean-sounding dialogue and effects.
Final Thoughts: "Blue Chips" is carried by a tremendous performance from Nick Nolte and the fact that it's not like a lot of the other films in the genre. Paramount's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality, but no extras, which is understandable for a bargain title. Recommended.