Combustible Celluloid
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With: Nick Nolte, Shaquille O'Neal, Mary McDonnell, Ed O'Neill, J.T. Walsh, Alfred Woodard, "Penny" Hardaway
Written by: Ron Shelton
Directed by: William Friedkin
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language
Running Time: 107
Date: 02/18/1994

Blue Chips (1994)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hoop Schemes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sports nut screenwriter Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) and director William Friedkin (The French Connection) team up for this effective, if overlong basketball drama. Shelton airs his concerns about the recruiting practices of major colleges, paying top players under the table for the privilege of playing at certain schools.

Nick Nolte stars as Pete Bell, a Los Angeles coach who resists such ploys as long as he can, until he experiences a bitter losing season. It's a very good performance, complete with a fiery, fanatical opening locker room scene, screaming and bellowing at his trailing team.

Director Friedkin's background in documentary and his penchant for authentic process gives the film a fascinating realism, even going so far as to show real games instead of the usual staged ones. Seven-foot-one superstar Shaquille O'Neal makes his big screen debut as an unknown ringer recruited for Bell's team and the late, great J.T. Walsh gets in a few deliciously sleazy scenes as the team's financial backer. But other supporting actors such as Alfre Woodard, Mary McDonnell and Ed O'Neill have seen better roles. "Penny" Hardaway, O'Neal's former teammate, also stars.

The film begins to drag as it leaves the basketball world and gets into Bell's crisis of conscience, but it's still a worthy effort. It had the misfortune of being released the same year as the highly acclaimed and successful 4-hour documentary Hoop Dreams.

DVD Details: Paramount's 2005 DVD release comes with no extras whatsoever, which is too bad because Friedkin usually records interesting and entertaining commentary tracks.

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