Tuff Turf (1985)

Do you like 80s high school movies? Do you like 80’s comedies? Do you like 80s Romeo-and-Juliet stories? What about “rich kid gone bad”, vigilante, “fish-out-of-water” comedies, or 30s big-band-revivals? Well do we have a treat for you! Not only do we have James Spader and Robert Downey Jr showing that they were once young, but practically every mid 80s teen cinematic trope thrown into one two hour long mega-mix of double denim fashions and ozone-layer destroying hairstyles.

“Dude, your shift is so fluffy”

The film starts with Morgan (James Spader) riding his racing bicycle through the mean streets of LA at night and then busting up the casual violent crime antics of Frankie (Kim Richards) and Nick (Paul Mones) by cycling right through their attempted robbery. Nick gets angry and swears unstoppable vengeance (probably for the fifth time that day) and Frankie gets visibly attracted to Morgan. The next day, Jimmy (Robert Downey Jr) provides Morgan all the exposition we need to fill in the gaps and everyone spends a day at a high school populated exclusively by hyper-attractive 23-year-olds.

“I spent three weeks on this hairdo”

To show us that this film could go anywhere, Morgan’s bike is stolen and then demolished by Nike. This also shows us that neither the laws of man or of physics will be respected, as the bike is hit by a car doing 50 and only gets the front and back wheels bent out of shape and 300 school kids being involved in over-violence outside a school is just allowed to happen. We then get to see about 500 “kids” dance to pop music in an abandoned factory in a crossover between Happy Days and The Decline Of Western Civilisation.

These were actual fashions of the day

This is that wonderful High-School Of The Mind, that only middle-aged film creatives could come up with after a couple of snorts of creative assistance. It’s The Kids From Fame trying to be street tough, with logic, laws, logistics, and exactly what damage a human body can take being blithely ignored. When Frankie inevitably gets together with Morgan things try to get more serious, but somehow end up being even less realistic.

“I promise you, I’ll change when we get married and I finally turn 18”

But what it lacks in delicacy it makes up for in variety, as every 20 minutes it changes gear so you can’t get bored with any of its many, many themes. It also has, as you would expect, a continuously overblown and preppy soundtrack. So, whilst it dives headlong from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Rebel Without A Cause and then Death Wish, it manages to keep you entertained.


That the cast is made up of some very talented actors starting to show mastery of their craft really helps. Which it needs, as the camerawork and direction are middling to the point of distraction. It really wants to be an MTV special, but that would just be too much hard work. So, instead, we get multiple scenes at a Big Band Revival club populated by Radio 2 listeners and members of the cast because the Executive Producer assumed that’s what kids will be into next.

“Here’s Johnny!”

It’s very fair to say that it’s uneven as a film, and at almost two hours it’s clear that the makers had way more ideas and budget than concentration. But it manages to do everything it does either competently or very well. There will be moments that you really enjoy, and that somehow is enough to keep you watching. If nothing else, but to see what people actually wore back then.

“Did I leave the gas on?”

It is enjoyable, it is silly and overblown, and it just about makes it to the Treasure mark through a combination of gale and determination. It’s unlikely you’ll ever watch it again, or that you’ll ever consider it a classic of the form, but if you want an 80s teen drama b-movie then this is the deluxe package with extra hair extensions for all!

The Raggedyman

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