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Immediately following his blockbuster hits The Omen and Superman: The Movie, director Richard Donner stepped down to much smaller-scale filmmaking with 1980's Inside Moves, an audience-pleasing drama with an interesting cast.
The book by Todd Walton concerns a group of neighborhood men who frequent Max's, a bar near a hospital. All have a serious disability and have formed an impromptu social unit. Into their number comes Roary, who was seriously wounded in Vietnam and has difficulty walking. Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson's screenplay dropped the wounded vet aspect, making Roary (John Savage of The Deer Hunter and Hair) into more of a mystery: in the film's first scene he strides happily into an office building, climbs to the tenth floor and jumps out an open window. Although he miraculously survives, Roary remains a question mark throughout most of the film. Partly rehabilitated, he joins the group at Max's and befriends Jerry, a personable young bartender with a bum knee (David Morse, in his first role). Jerry is depressed because he was once an excellent basketball player, and his injury prevents him from playing professionally.
Much of the movie is an affectionate character study of the little community. Max's personable, funny regulars are the wheelchair-bound Blue Lewis (Bill Henderson), the blind Stinky (Robert Altman regular Bert Remsen) and the handless Wings. Wings is played by Harold Russell, the disabled actor who won two Academy Awards 34 years earlier for The Best Years of Our Lives; he reportedly returned to acting only after director Donner agreed to change his character's name, which originally was, "Hooks".
Some of the relationships become complicated. Jerry's been spending the money he needs for his knee operation on his girlfriend Anne (Amy Wright of The Accidental Tourist), a prostitute and heroin addict. Jerry tries unsuccessfully to shield Anne from her violent pimp, Lucius (Tony Burton). Meanwhile, after Max suffers a heart attack, Roary uses his savings to buy a part interest in the bar, that he shares with Jerry. Business picks up when the bar attracts a wider range of customers. The new barmaid Louise (Diana Scarwid) forms a crush on Roary, but he's too shy to pursue the relationship. Louise is honest enough to admit that she's uncomfortable with Roary's disability.
Known as a master of fantasy and horror, Donner returns to his roots in dramatic television to stretch his profile as a director. His scenes are relaxed and character-driven. Inside Moves won the approval of disabled viewers, who have remarked that it presents people with handicaps as no different than anyone else. The rowdies at Max's display their share of odd behavior and petty resentments. They're associated by their infirmities, but refuse to be defined by them.
Of Inside Moves' cast of young actors, only John Savage was firmly established. Excellent editing convinces us that David Morse is a fine basketball player, while Amy Wright is almost painfully effective as the alternately helpless and abusive Anne. Diana Scarwid was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. But the film's popularity can be chalked up to its major sports subplot. Jerry and Roary take in a night of basketball, after which Jerry challenges pro player Alvin Martin (Harold Sylvester) to a one-on-one game. To Roary's surprise, Jerry does very well, even with his bad leg. Alvin later loans Jerry the money needed for a knee operation with a qualified sports specialist, and works with him during his recovery period. Jerry is soon picked up by a local team and scouted for the majors.
To director Donner's credit, this "sports miracle" development doesn't come off as ridiculous. Issues of friendship and loyalty arise when Jerry abandons his old friends at Max's -- and begins to date Louise. That's when we're reminded that Roary had serious emotional problems of his own, that might return with disastrous consequences.
Inside Moves ends on a positive note, with reservations. Richard Donner had been removed from Superman II. That fantasy ends with a sequence in which Clark Kent takes petty revenge on a bar bully, an ethical lapse unworthy of the noble superhero. Inside Moves finishes with a similarly act of retribution against the film's villain, a cheap commercial ploy to give audiences a "feel good" finale. After two hours of emotional honesty, this ending now seems equally false and out of place.
Lionsgate's DVD of Inside Moves is an enhanced transfer that's unusually grainy and soft for a DVD transfer. Color and contrast are good, however, and several worthwhile extras are present. Director Richard Donner shares his commentary track with Brian Helgeland, the screenwriter of L.A. Confidential and Mystic River. From the Inside Out is a thorough making-of featurette with considerable input from Donner and original author Todd Walton. An image gallery presents Donner's copy of the shooting script, including his margin notes.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Inside Moves rates:
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