Side Out (1990) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief nudity and language     
Running Time: 100 min.

Cast: C. Thomas Howell, Peter Horton, Courtney Thome-Smith, Harley Jane Kozak, Christopher Rydell, Randy Stoklos
Director:  Peter Israelson
Screenplay: David Thoreau

Review published February 17, 2003

It seems like every couple of summers, someone at a major studio will come up with an idea for a "summer cash-in" movie, where there are hot bodies on display to sell tickets.  Normally, these kinds of films are pretty bad, like Where the Boys Are '84, where bikini babes and hunks practically sell the movie in the trailers, and all the producers need to insure entertainment is a skimpy storyline and skimpier bathing suits.  Side Out has only one thing to set it apart, namely, the world of beach volleyball, a sport that hasn't really been explored in film, even though it has flourished into a lucrative industry.  Surprising that it took so long for a "big thinker" to discover a way to capitalize on the idea, since half-naked men and women would naturally grace the screen for most of the duration.

It's a given that they were going to let the bodies do the selling when they cast C. Thomas Howell in the starring role, no longer a box office draw.  Not that he really has a tanned and muscular body, but they needed a recognizable name, and even if he wasn't the box office draw he was in the mid-80s in films like Red Dawn, Secret Admirer and Soul Man, he has at shown the propensity to be able to handle very contrived comedy and romance, the kinds of which Side Out is largely built around. 

Howell stars as Monroe Clark, fresh to Southern California by way of Milwaukee.  He's studying to be a lawyer, and has an opportunity to earn some experience at his uncle Max's firm for the summer.  One of his first assignments is serving papers to beach bum Zack Barnes (Horton, Amazon Women on the Moon) for his lack of payment on his rent, but somehow Monroe gets a bit sidetracked when he finds himself playing a little beach volleyball.  Although not the best at it, he has enough raw talent that former "King of the Beach" Barnes begins offering Monroe and buddy Wiley (Rydell, Gotcha!) some pointers, mostly to bring in more recruits for a beach tournament his girlfriend has invested a lot of money into.  When Wiley ends up with a broken arm, Barnes is back behind the net, and finds himself in the tournament which also will pit him against the new "King," Rollo Vincent (Stoklos), a man too obsessed with volleyball to do something about his ridiculous hairstyle.

There's very little to recommend in Side Out, a wholly formulaic "washed-up bum gets a second chance with new recruit" story, so the best we could hope for is to see some good sports action.  Where the filmmakers made a fatal error is in making the film about beach volleyball to begin with, as it might be very fun to play, but not really exciting to watch, especially since it isn't a sport which is easy to shoot.  Realizing this, they concoct some drama where Barnes is put into a situation where he might have to throw a game in the final tournament to try to add some rooting interest, and admittedly it does add a needed level of interest. 

Too bad the ending is completely botched by abruptness, showing short attention span and lack of focus of the film's creators.  Although the film starts out being about Monroe and his quest to become a lawyer, this shifts to volleyball, which is understandable given the premise of the movie.  How Barnes suddenly become the main focus is baffling, leaving Monroe's future unresolved, and also what happens to every character once the tournament is over.  I won't spoil the movie except to say that the result of the match leads to far more interesting developments that we are denied knowing about, yet there must have been a supposition that viewers would only care about who wins the tournament.  Sadly, the tournament's results are the least interesting part of the movie except what it means to the characters, and by not giving is a resolution, Side Out is nothing but a 100 minute waste of time.

The film's poster shows two volleyball players staring in awe at the tanned tush of a beach babe, and that's all you really need to know about why this film was conceived, and that volleyball is merely a means to an "end."  Funny that the real end of Side Out is largely absent, but the director found plenty of time for "rear end," especially in a gratuitous and completely needless bikini contest interlude.  If you want to see women in bikinis this badly, there are plenty of videos out there which feature nothing but that.  Why waste your time sitting through such cornball comedy and tired sports clichés that only get in the way of the real action you seek? 

Qwipster's rating:

©2003 Vince Leo