We gave it a D
Schoolbreak Specials always have a little lesson tucked into their scripts — they try to instruct their young audience even as they entertain. Sometimes, though, the message overwhelms the entertainment, which is certainly the case with The Fourth Man, an embarrassingly obvious melodrama about the dangers of steroids.
Sixteen-year-old Joey (Peter Billingsley of A Christmas Story) is a bright fellow who wears glasses and takes an interest in computers — by bad-TV standards he’s automatically a nerd. His dad (Tim Rossovich) is also a caricature — a hulking jock who’s uninterested in his son because the kid isn’t an athlete. When Joey rushes home one day to announce, ”I just won a prize at the state science fair — third place!” Dad’s only response is, ”That’s great son. Any money come with it?”
So Joey, to please his father, decides to become a star on the track team by training hard — and taking steroids. ”I just wanna see my dad cheering for me — once!” Joey explains to his mother, played by Adrienne Barbeau. Real Real pro-footballer Lyle Alzado appears as a former pro-footballer, a wise voice of experience whose career was ruined by taking too many you-know-whats.
The best exchange in the movie has nothing to do with the plot, but does manage to slip in a little message about rock music. Joey starts dating a nice girl (Nicole Eggert), who asks him, ”So, who do you like in music?”
”Oh, U2, Tracy Chapman,” says Mr. Eager-to-Please. ”Anything but heavy metal.”
”Yeah,” the girl says warmly, ”I agree. Lyrics should mean something.”
Repeat after me, kids: Heavy-metal lyrics are meaningless. The Fourth Man, written by Joanna Lee and Annie Caroline Schuler and directed by Lee, comes complete with bad guys who say things to Joey like ”Need quick action? The answer’s steroids,” and a track coach who goads Joey to train harder by barking, ”You better get your priorities straight, young man. It’s called prioritizing.”
Oh, great — impressionable minds tuning in to receive a warning about steroids get a free lesson in bad jargon. It’s called the English language, coach. D