Sportsflicks: Inside Moves, Or Golden State Warriors Are People, Too

In which the director of "Superman" once again returns to a classic, mythic theme: a bartender who makes the Golden State Warriors.
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The Golden State Warriors appear to be a team of destiny this season. Oakland has something to be proud of and scream about, even as the Athletics and Raiders posture and #disrupt their way out of town, and even as these Warriors plan to break ground for an arena in San Francisco proper next year. Steve Kerr is the genius your father suspected him to be when he kept telling you he was the real reason the Bulls went 72-10 in 1996. Klay Thompson is the new Sleepy Floyd, raining Hell on his enemies in twelve-minute bursts. Dell Curry’s son is also on the team, which is nice. That kid could be nice player someday.

So these Warriors have got a chance. Still, it’s been 40 years since Golden State surprised even themselves by sweeping the Washington Bullets in the NBA Finals. The Warriors’ peaks since then seem more fleeting than their valleys; for every Baron Davis in 2007, there is a Latrell Sprewell in 1997. For every two seasons of Run TMC, there are five seasons of Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. For every million or so people with their eyes glued to Steph Curry’s real-time canonization as the patron saint of hero-ball, there is a guy putting off rewatching an ’80’s movie, in which a man with messed up legs and an even more messed up psyche joins your Golden State Warriors. Or, anyway, that was me, until I actually did it.

Inside Moves is somewhat obscure for an Academy Award-nominated film, even as far as Academy Award-nominated films of the early 1980’s go. Inside Moves has people we all know and love throughout its credits, from director Richard Donner and screenwriters Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin to actors David Morse, John Savage, Diana Scarwid and, um, I assume you all like Bert Remsen as much as I do, right?


John Savage is Roary, an emotionally broken man who jumps out of a building and into our hearts. After a long recovery and even longer hair growth, Roary winds up on Skid Row, or whatever equivalent there is in whatever part of Los Angeles was pretending to be Oakland during filming. Roary winds up hanging around a lot at Max’s Bar, where he befriends a group of older men with various handicaps, ranging from blindness to the burden of winning two Oscars for the same role 35 years before. This is Harold Russell’s most notable role after The Best Years Of Our Lives, and he’s very good in this supporting part.

David Morse is Jerry Maxwell, a kind but self-involved bartender with a bit of a limp and all kinds of game. Roary sees Jerry hold his own while playing pickup basketball and tags along as they watch Alvin Martin (Harold Sylvester, the sole black man in Al Bundy’s pathbreaking MRA organization NO MA’AM) choke at the end of a Golden State Warriors game. Their shit-talking leads to a one-on-one game between Jerry and Alvin, starting a journey which eventually leads Jerry onto an NBA roster. The fact that one of Jerry’s legs is longer than the other is far from his most noticeable flaw; when Roary suggests they use the money he was going to give Jerry to fix his legs to save the bar, Jerry doesn’t see why the bar should be more important than his slightly-improved gait. As it turns out, the NBA player was inside him all along!

Eventually, Roary and Jerry get Alvin to loan them the money, and Jerry becomes a successful semi-pro baller and a much less successful friend. He avoids Roary and the gang out of fear that their handicaps will underscore his flaws as a person. Well, that and he sleeps with Roary’s girlfriend. The saintly Louise is a lot better choice for either man than Anne, the drug-abusing floozy who along with pimp Tony Burton are the closest things to villains that Inside Moves has to offer. By the end, Roary confronts Jerry, who admits that he is the true cripple (again, 1980), and the gang reunites to see Jerry’s debut with the Warriors. Oh, also Tony Burton breaks his back and the gang laughs at his misfortune.

Harold Sylvester, the aforementioned men’s rights pioneer from “Married With Children,” and himself a decent college player at Tulane, is pretty good as the magical early 80’s NBA player. I wouldn’t say Diana Scarwid earned her Oscar nomination for this film, but I will also admit to some bias: I’m such a fan of the performance that did win that year that I can’t imagine any performance even being in the same category as Mary Steenburgen’s in Melvin And Howard. Amy Wright is also pretty good in her thankless role as the counterpoint to Scarwid in this movie’s extremely ’80s Madonna/Whore binary.

Director Richard Donner has had a long and varied career. While Inside Moves is a solid effort on his part, it was his first film after being fired by the producers of Superman II. Many actors who worked with Donner before and after Inside Moves make appearances, including Jack O’Leary (the reporter at the end of The Goonies) and Steve Kahan (who just so happens to be Donner’s cousin). Barry Levinson, in his adaptation of Todd Walton’s novel with his then-wife, Valerie Curtin, shows the same deft (?) touch in dealing with people with disabilities that he’d later show in Rain Man.

Inside Moves is a decent movie with a superb cast, but it loses much of its luster upon repeated viewings. While its message—that physically disabled persons have complex, vibrant lives, give or take some dramatic convenience—is commendable in theory, it reads pretty patronizing when put into practice. No person, or class of people, should have be told that they are people, too. Some of this is the 1980’s being the 1980’s, but a lot of it isn’t even past.

Much of the gang’s vignettes try to portray them as regular guys, but they come off more as dirty old men, more comic relief than real people. David Morse is great as Jerry, which is no surprise because David Morse is a fantastic actor. But his character grates, whereas you never know how much of the Roary we see was already there before his suicide attempt. Ultimately, Inside Moves is good for at least one viewing, preferably at a moment when the Golden State Warriors have just swept their most recent opponent and when you are looking for a quick fix before the next round begins. This postseason may only offer three such chances, so make your move.

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