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Movies We Like: 'Inside Moves' (1980)


Friendship. Love. Dreams. All good stuff in life.

Inside Moves” is a little gem of a film, director Richard Donner knocked out back in 1980 between, among others, “Superman” and “Lethal Weapon.” Working from a solid script by Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson, “Inside Moves” tells the story of a young man named, Roary, (beautifully portrayed by John Savage) who, after a failed suicide attempt, sets out to put the pieces of his life back together again. Along the way, he finds a motley group of friends, who accept him for the man he is, as he discovers just how sweet life can be, when you’re willing to risk, willing to go for your dreams.


Shortly after being discharged from the local hospital, Roary, moving along like some sort of sand crab as a result of his injuries, finds himself among the slightly ‘crippled,’ yet not-so-broken souls of Max’s Bar (a wonderful ensemble of actors, including casting director turned actor, Bert Remsen, jazz great, Bill Henderson and Harold Russell, the Academy Award winner from “The Best Years of Our Lives,” add to the joy and spirit of the film.)

Roary immediately strikes up a friendship with bartender, Jerry Maxwell, (the fine David Morse) who invites him to watch the San Francisco Warriors, play some round ball later that night. At the game, Jerry is all over hot shot rookie, Alvin Martin, (Harold Sylvester) who, while clearly a talented player, seems to lack the killer instinct to be a truly great player. After the Warriors lose the game, due to Alvin’s freezing under pressure, the mouthy Jerry confronts him, challenging him to a game of one-on-one. Alvin accepts. Put up. Shut up.

The next day, the two friends arrive before the Warriors practice and much to his surprise; Jerry gives Alvin all that he can handle, losing the game by one point. Jerry, you see, has a bum knee and despite being ‘a cripple’ battles with great passion. Never giving up, Roary is inspired by his friend.

From that moment on, a spark is ignited in both men. Life suddenly has meaning. For Jerry, the possibility to repair his damaged knee and the slight hope to follow his dream of playing basketball. For Roary, a chance to hitch his wagon to his new best friend, while providing him support in the process.

New beginnings.

Not so fast.

After Max (Jack O’Leary) suffers a heart attack, Roary, with ten-thousand bucks in a trust fund and Jerry, with some money saved for his surgery, go in as partners to save Max’s from foreclosure. To them, Max’s is more than just a bar, it’s family.

Things do not go smoothly, as Jerry is forced to deal with his drug-addicted, hooker girlfriend, Anne, (Amy Wright) who brings nothing but trouble into his life. When Anne’s pimp (Tony Burton) arrives to reclaim her, he subsequently has Jerry beaten to a pulp, which sends him into a deep funk, nearly extinguishing his hopes of ever pursuing his dream.

Roary on the other hand continues to plug along, finding peace in his life and love, in the form of the new waitress at Max’s, Louise. (Diana Scarwid, Academy Award-nominated for best supporting actress.)

Without giving away too much, Jerry has an operation to repair his gimpy knee and is soon on the road to living his dream of playing professional ball. Months later, when a big welcome home party is set at Max’s, Jerry is a no-show. Later that night, he calls Roary to meet him and explain his absence.

Soon after, Jerry begins sneaking around while seeing Louise; Roary finds out and is crushed. Once again, he’s back to where he started, forced to deal with the hurt and pain of his life. Confronting the Warriors newest basketball star on the eve of his big-game debut, Roary digs down deep, setting Jerry straight on the issue of friendship. Louise then handles the situation in her own classy way, wisely choosing between the two men. The next day finds Jerry back at Max’s to face his old friends, telling them the truth of why he stayed away for so long. (the lack of PC dialogue in this wonderful scene is very refreshing.)

For me, “Inside Moves” is a small labor of love, as evidenced by the b/w photo of the cast and crew over the closing credits, while Count Basie’s “Captain Bligh” plays on. It really is family.

Without question, the heart and soul of this film is John Savage, whose portrayal of Roary is superb. Coming on the heels of his amazing work in “The Deer Hunter” and “The Onion Field” (is there another actor out there who captures the inner pain and torment of his characters as well he?) Savage centers the film, providing his fellow cast members with the opportunity to shine. A generous actor who here is at his best.

Add to the mix, original music by the great John Barry and you have a thoroughly satisfying movie that will no doubt leave you smiling…

Good stuff.

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