Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions
The KO Picture Show
Presents. . .
Tough Enough (1983)
"Albania really takes one on the chin here.
Acting is all about believability. Can a particular thespian make you believe the emotions they're professing to have? Are they successful in suspending your disbelief and seeing them as a used car salesman or a hooker with a heart of gold? Do you believe Bruce Willis is a grizzled NY Cop stuck in the ventilation shafts of Nakatomi Plaza? Do you believe that Carol Speed has been possessed by the horniest demon in existence? Is Tommy "Tiny" Lister believable as the President of the United States? Opinions may vary on those particular performances. The bottom line is, it's the actor's job to make you believe that they are someone else, no matter how far that varies from their true persona. But one thing you CAN'T fake is the ability to sing.

Now, I know some of you are saying, "Sure you can! Look at Lou Diamond Phillips as Richie Valens! He didn't sing a line in that whole movie, but it still convinced me! How could you not cry at the end, you heartless sonufa...
'RICHIE! RRIIIIIIICCHHHIIIEEEEEEE!!!' I'm getting choked up just thinking about it! How dare you!"

WHOA! Take it easy there! Let me revise my statement. You CAN fake the ability to sing IF you have someone else do the singing for you, like LDP in
La Bamba. Otherwise, you better have the chops to pull if off yourself, like Jamie Foxx in Ray or Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line. But one thing you absolutely CAN'T do is present someone as a singer, and then have them stink the joint up. And therein lies the problem with Dennis Quaid in Tough Enough.

Quaid plays Art Long, a wannabe country singer who, frankly, comes up a little short on both the talent and desire fronts. He's presented as a hope
FUL dreamer type, but I'm more inclined to agree with his shrill, nagging, constantly be-night gowned wife (played by Carlene Watkins), who sees him as more hopeLESS and a bit of a bum. I mean, the guy is blowing off a paying job in order to play open mic nights at some Country bar called Torreyson's, and his appearance on stage is immediately met with boos and heckling. So the music career hasn't really panned out for Art. But being the enterprising (READ: lazy) type, rather than get another straight job and continue his, to my ears, pointless musical hobby, Art decides to take a shot at some quick bucks by entering a local Toughman competition.

For the uninitiated, Toughman Competitions are where amateur "Tough Guys" can step into the ring, strap on some gloves, and then beat the holy hell out of each other for three 3-minute rounds. If no one gets knocked out (or drops dead from exhaustion, which is usually the case once the adrenaline runs out for these guys), it goes to the judges' scorecards, just like in boxing. If this description sounds a bit derisive, it's not meant to be. These guys are undeniably "tough". But in no way should this type of exhibition be compared to the professional sport of boxing. It's more along the line of one of those carnival games where you hit the lever with a big rubber mallet and try and ring the bell, but to the nth degree... and with significantly greater risk of brain damage.

But I digress. As it turns out, Art is a natural for this kind of work. He cruises his way through the local competition and wins an invite to the National Toughman Contest. Along the way he befriends a helpful competitor named P.T. Coolidge (played by one of the boxing genres most familiar faces, Stan Shaw) and his wife, a woefully underused and pretty much inconsequential to the plot Pam Grier. P.T. becomes Art's ad hoc trainer, and after some more marital spats (READ: character development) between the Longs (who we eventually find out have a kid, a character that challenges Pam Grier's for "uselessness to the plot" supremacy) and some wrangling with the seamy underside of the Toughman world (embodied amply by the promoter Warren Oates and the money man Bruce McGill) we eventually wind our way to the Toughman competition in Detroit.

From there we get into pretty well-worn territory for the "tournament style" boxing/fighting drama. I've seen it done better (and worse), but if I wasn't pre-disposed to these types of flicks why would I be reviewing them, right? So I can't quibble with their efforts in that aspect (at least, not here. I'll get to that aspect in my final thoughts...). My problem is with the aforementioned "lack of singing talent for a singer" casting of Quaid and an alarming level of derivation by the writers and producers. The tagline for the film is "
'Rocky' without rules", so they're not even trying to hide that. They even have Quaid do an ill-advised imitation of Stallone's Balboa during a training session that actually made me wince. But slightly more nuanced is their late-to-the-party-by-about-2-years coattail riding of the "Country Music/Western Culture" boom that came with the 1980 John Travolta vehicle, Urban Cowboy. The bar Torreyson's pales in comparison to Gilley's, as does the lifting of the "everyman becomes something special at something he previously had no interest or aptitude in" plotline (punching people in the face in this case, rather than mechanical bull-riding). And while Urban Cowboy oozed authenticity (having Bonnie Raitt and The Charlie Daniels Band playing in the background certainly didn't hurt), Tough Enough can't even manage a believable "YEEE-HAAW!" from it's Texas locales.

So not only has it been done before, but done significantly better... twice.
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Once we finally get to Detroit, we get the mixed bag that comes with these kinds of movies. If done right, the one-dimensional aspect of the challengers Art is going to face can be fun (like in Diggstown, or Stallone's arm-wrestling epic Over The Top), even if the fight action itself is a bit lacking. We get that here, with some interesting faces and names (and, inexplicably, Albania really takes a beating in this one, with one of the de facto bad guy named Tigran Baldasarian having a number of mental and personality deficiencies ascribed to him simply because of his nationality).

Unfortunately the fight choreography is about as weak as Quaid's singing. It's all pretty staged and VERY unbelievable. Even Toughman contests have some level of medical standards and personnel standing by. If they saw this level of beatings taking place and did nothing (as they do in this movie), I'd have no problem finding them guilty of accessory to murder by means of dispassion. The Big Fight Finale is a foregone and very bloody conclusion. That Quaid's Long is a good 1/3 the size of the men that he's fighting is simply a matter of disbelief suspension; whether this movie earns it is a matter of taste.

With this cast, this should have been a lot more fun. But the entire effort is hamstrung by derivative writing and a complete failure to capture the natural ambiance of the settings. It's a poor entry into the "tournament" boxing/fighting films that I love so much. Art Long is no Frank Dux or Lincoln Hawk. And a distinct lack of cheesiness that is needed for these types of movies is also missing. You NEED a certain level of melodrama (something I've consistently shown contempt for when reviewing fight films) in order to make these movies work. Never mind that we KNOW "that guy" is gonna win. You have to develop A) at least an inkling of doubt in regards to the conclusion and B) a plausible, if nigh-invincible villain who's gonna eat it in the finale. You have to at least deliver on those two fronts or you've lost me. And this movie definitely failed to do that.

No Bull Hurley? No Chong Li? Then why bother?

Rob Tillisch
Overall Rating -
1 - 2 -
Starring: Dennis Quaid,
Stan Shaw, Carlene Watkins, Warren Oates, Wilford Brimley, Pam Grier, Bruce McGill
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