Nobody has made a film like this for about fourty years. The intervening time has not been spent thinking up new twists or situations. Oxford Blues is very little more than an updating of thirties and fourties films like A Yank at Oxford. Such films were practically a tiny genre in those days. I suppose they were finally killed by World War II, when America lost a great deal of its inferiority complex (probably for the wrong reasons). The formula was to place a brash American among genteel Englishmen (and, most particularly, Englishwomen). The Yank would invariably make a botch of things initially, displaying poor manners and a lack of respect for the traditions of the mother country. But he was Good At Heart, so his spunk and/or ingenuity always won out in the end, and he would be warmly accepted by the Britishers.
Well, that's still the plot. More sex, more profanity, modern references, eighties actors, and color photography are about all that separate it from those old films. I suppose someone saw one of them on late night TV and decided that he could sneak one across on today's youth. Considering the number of teenaged girls at the matinee I saw, some of whom had already seen it twice in the three days it has been open, maybe he was right.
The main attraction for those girls is Rob Lowe, out and out packaged as a teen idol for the first time in this movie. He plays the Yank who sneaks into Oxford with the help of some minor computer twiddling. He has an ulterior motive. He has fallen in love, from a great distance, with a young English noblewoman who goes to Oxford. The plan is that he will meet her there, they will fall madly in love, etc., etc., etc. There are, of course, complications, involving her fiancee and some enemies Lowe makes early on. Seems, however, that he's a fine sculler (that's as in the boat races which British colleges treat with the same inane devotion we reserve for football). He eventually makes the team for his college. But will he let the side down for a night of love with Lady Victoria? Well, of course he will. He's an American, isn't he, and everyone knows that we're sex maniacs with no sense of tradition and no concern for others. Will he be able to redeem himself? Will he row in the big grudge match against Harvard? Will he wind up with the sophisticated English girl or the wholesome American girl who serves as coxswain on his boat? Do I really need to answer any of those questions?
I've revealed a fair amount of the plot, but I don't feel too bad about it, as you can see it all a mile off. There are no unusual twists here. But we're dealing with a formula, albeit a very old and dusty one, so you can't criticise too much for that. Execution is everything in such a film. The execution here is serviceable, but undistinguished. Writer/director Robert Boris gets a fair amount out of it, but somehow it all feels less British, locations or no, than it did when filmed by Central European expatriates on Hollywood backlots fourty or fifty years ago. Since the film must stand or fall on atmosphere, it teeters a little. Boris also gets less out of the many boat races than he might. These are patterned a bit too transparently on the examples of Chariots of Fire, music and all, but Boris doesn't capture the beauty of boat races nearly as well as Hugh Hudson captured the beauty of running.
The cast is OK, for the most part. Rob Lowe handles his assignment well. Amanda Pays is suitably cool and beautiful as the British aristocrat. Ally Sheedy, who was extremely charming in War Games, is ever so slightly irritating in this film, playing the American girl. The actors assigned to provide local color as English dons are all right, but the casting agency should have looked further into the availability of John Gielgud or the possibilities of resurrecting C. Aubrey Smith.
It's getting a bit wearing to keep coming down with this kind of verdict, but Oxford Blues is just another film that's not too bad, and that you will probably like moderately if you expect to. Definitely no surprises.
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