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Oxford Blues
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by Jack Sommersby

"Both Lowe and the Movie Shine"
4 stars

Did moderate box-office business when released, it's worthy of a look-see for those who crave that 'ol "old-fashioned entertainment" that's in dire short supply these days.

The Rob Lowe star vehicle Oxford Blues is wonderfully entertaining, touchingly romantic, superbly acted, and, most of all, respectful of an audience's intelligence. It's not a crass, in-your-face cinematic endeavor that crowds and condescends; it believes in its story and populates it with well-rounded characters we can both identify with and respond to, and we're given the proper aesthetic distance to get our own reading on them. Granted, there's nothing particularly original in its basic premise -- that of brash American Nick De Angelo (Lowe) hustling his way into Oxford University to win over the girl of his dreams, Lady Victoria Wingate (Amanda Pays), and ruffling more than a few feathers of the upper-crust Brits along the way -- but it's developed in some unexpected ways and arrives at an emotionally satisfying conclusion without a minimum of manipulation. It's not only a major coupe for Lowe, who displayed charisma and talent in the fine high-school comedy/drama Class the year before, but for Robert Boris, whose screenplay has the quality and nuance that was lacking in his previous efforts Doctor Detroit (with Dan Aykroyd) and Some Kind of Hero (with Richard Pryor), and who makes a respectable directorial debut here. In his finely etched character study, Nick is a Las Vegas casino parking attendant making good grades at the local university but is hopelessly infatuated with Lady Victoria, who he's read about in magazines; he sleeps around but is in deep-seated love with this woman he's never met -- as he tells an older colleague who tries to knock some sense into him over what he feels is an unrealistic expectation, "I'll gamble on romance any day of the week." He's also something of an underachiever, intelligent in the classroom and talented as an oarsman but sees giving more effort than necessary as wasteful ("If that's all it takes, why use any more?"). After succeeding in coming up with fifteen-hundred dollars to pay a computer hacker to get his name bumped up on the waiting list for Oxford, he's soon overseas and agog over his good fortune: driving a cherry-red vintage convertible around; strutting around in blue jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket; stirring up the masses with his brazen self always speaking his mind no matter the delicate situation, he definitely makes the indelible impression. In other words, it's a role with numerous potential trapdoors, and the game Lowe, exuding genuine screen presence, deftly sidesteps every one.

What does Nick learn along the way in addition to responsibility and character? That maximizing one's potential and pursuing absolute love no matter its outcome is worth it, which are admirable aspects for a motion picture aimed at the youth market to bring out. You can carp over the movie's familiar structure and far-from-illuminating dramatic arc, but the way it arrives at its emotional payoffs is always tactful. Refreshingly, Lady Victoria (an enticing Amanda Pays) isn't some kind of cliched snoot: she doesn't have a cold heart Nick needs to gradually melt; perfectly aware of her tantalizing effect on young men, she isn't above naughtily teasing Nick when he presumptuously thinks he's charmingly talked her into a tryst in his dorm room in record time -- his ego is brought down a level when he spies her out the window getting into the car of her fiancee Colin (a witty Julian Sands) instead. There's also Rona (an appealing Ally Sheedy), a fellow American and assistant coach of the Blue Jackets, the university's elite sculling squad that takes Nick on as a member and whose motto is very simple: there are no second chances. I wish Boris had given us an idea of what kind of student Nick makes once at Oxford: not necessarily what he chooses to study per se, but if his internal growth to expend more effort to the squad and dedicate himself extended to his academia, as well. (Surely one can't make a life's career out of sculling!) Other quibbles: a stupid fistfight engineered late in the game just so Nick can get "sent down" (i.e. expelled); a rather mediocre training montage of Nick preparing himself for the final sculling match; and Sheedy's attempt at "naturalness" in the first half is a bit forced. Still, Oxford Blues is unexpectedly impressive. While obviously a thinly veiled remake of the 1938 A Yank at Oxford, it has the benefit of a writer/director who's taken the time to give it some unexpected nuance: you never feel you're watching a tired retread, a carbon copy of something that wasn't particularly fresh in the first place. The supporting performances by the excellent array of British character actors (Aubrey Morris, Alan Howard, Michael Gough) are amusingly droll, the lovely score by John Du Prez accentuates without going syrupy on us, and the expressive lighting by John Stanier brings out the full quarter and half tones of the Oxford interiors and exteriors with restraint. But the movie is make or break with Lowe, and while his role isn't particularly challenging, he fills it with as much truth as it can hold, giving us characterization rather than caricature.

Ignore the terrible DVD cover; the theatrical poster is much better.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23301&reviewer=327
originally posted: 03/03/13 18:33:11
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USA
  24-Aug-1984 (PG-13)
  DVD: 22-Jun-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  09-Oct-1986


Directed by
  Robert Boris

Written by
  Robert Boris

Cast
  Rob Lowe
  Ally Sheedy
  Julian Sands
  Amanda Pays
  Michael Gough



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