Tough Enough (1983)
I can’t think of a better way to start a redneck comedy tough guy competition movie than with a barroom setting and eight finalists in the nightly wet T-Shirt contest. Now boys, don’t get too excited when you see Pam Grier’s name in this write up. No she isn’t in the contest though if she were I think it would be only fair to say that she’d easily be the chosen winner. Now on to the actual movie which proved to be a fun revisit since seeing it back when it debuted on VHS shortly after it’s theatrical release.
Looking back, the reason I wanted to see this flick the first time was simple. It was billed as the last film to be released that featured Warren Oates in the cast. A bona fide member of The Wild Bunch. Head bowed down, I’ll admit that Miss Grier hadn’t entered my vocabulary or thoughts just yet. From veteran director, Richard Fleischer, Tough Enough stars Dennis Quaid as a wanna be country music singer who discovers he has a talent for the tough man competitions put on by Oates’ shady promoter.
As the wet T-Shirt contest comes to a close, Quaid takes to the stage of the Honkytonk bar and promptly sets his guitar down midway through his song and KO’s three cowboys who’d much rather ogle the ladies in the contest. So much for his latest entry in singing contests. On the home front, his wife played by Carlene Watkins would much rather have a husband with a steady paying job and even Wilford Brimley as Quaid’s Dad thinks he should be doing something that pays the bills.
How about entering the Tough Man Competition put on by Oates and his partner Bruce McGill. “Who is the toughest man in Fort Worth, Texas?” Oates asks the crowd as the ramshackle group of fighters are herded out into the ring. It’s mostly a collection of beer bellies and barroom brawlers. Included in the mix is Stan Shaw who looks just a little too good but not quite marketable enough for Oates. Much to Pam Grier’s disappointment, her man loses a fixed three rounder.
“The Country and Western Warrior” has a ring to it that Oates likes and as he selects the matchups, he more or less gives Dennis an easy ride of tomato cans to the final. Dennis will have to make good on his own here as he’s fighting an oversized gorilla in the shape of a real life fighter I recall from the 90’s called Butterbean. With the knock out win, Quaid is off to the tournament finals in Detroit City against other brawlers from across the country. The prize? A cool $100 grand.
With his wife in tow, he wisely enlists Shaw as his manager and of course Pam tags along for the show as well. Dennis is going to have to decide whether he wants to pursue that country music dream or fight his way to fame when a music promoter signs him to a three year record deal.
Calling this a “Redneck Comedy” I believe is a perfect fit. It’s a bunch of good old boys having fun for the most part and Oates at one time was the best of the bunch. Here he still has that drawl in his voice but he’s not the country bumpkin he was known to play in the earlier part of his career in movies and countless westerns from the television era. He’s more of a western P.T. Barnum. Quaid was the up and comer at this time and does his own singing and playing and comes off fine in the slugging department as well. The fight scenes are both funny, brutal and realistic to boot though the final tilt is something of a Hollywood letdown. So much so, that I have to wonder if some of the brawls were captured during one of these real live events at the time of production. There’s plenty of people in the seats of the stadiums though that could be due to the fact that the producers did some filming between fights of a real live boxing or wrestling event.
Stan Shaw always looks the part of a fighter to me and I’m not surprised to see him here or turning up years later as the boxer in DePalma’s Snake Eyes. Where Pam is concerned, I have to assume she’s collecting a paycheck here as her role is rather bland with not much to do so for her fans, don’t expect much. Least of all delivering a good ass kicking to some poor bar room hick. Also impressing is Carlene Watkins as Quaid’s wife. I say this due to the fact that she never appeared in another feature film. Just television work. Rather odd.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the wonderment of Wilford Brimley on screen. I dare you to catch him acting under that walrus sized mustache he often sports. Not a very easy thing to do. Like Oates, he’s so good at what he does that he rarely gets accolades. Just not showy enough.
Tough Enough turned out to be one of the latter day films from director Fleischer as well. A man who had given us films ranging from The Narrow Margin to The Vikings to Soylent Green and countless other enjoyable titles along the way.