”Varsity Blues” is set in the pigskin-crazed burg of West Canaan, Tex., where Jonathan ”Mox” Moxon (”Dawson’s Creek”’s likably bland James Van Der Beek), a second-string quarterback for his school’s football team, the Coyotes, is content warming the bench and concentrating on scholastic achievements. (An early scene shows Mox surreptitiously reading Slaughterhouse Five in the middle of a game, which in this context immediately brands him as a freak.) Before long, however, the team’s star QB is out with torn ligaments, and our diffidently handsome hero must contend with Coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), a sadistic authoritarian who’s determined to win his 23rd district championship even if he has to trample over the fragile young bodies of his players to do it.
For all of its lip service to the glories of marching to a different drummer, Varsity Blues plods along to the same monotonous 2/4 beat that’s accompanied virtually every teen-oriented movie since love first found Andy Hardy. Winning isn’t everything, Mox insists in a hokey locker-room speech, though the film nonetheless builds toward the traditional big-game climax — victory being decided, predictably, with just seconds remaining on the clock.
More significantly, Blues follows the lead of John Hughes flicks in positing that clueless and/or vindictive adults are to blame for all of the world’s ills. Poor Mox is saddled with a Cro-Magnon dad who couldn’t care less that his boy gets accepted to Brown, as well as a flighty mom who’s blithely unconcerned that her younger son is experimenting with unconventional religious paradigms (”Kyle, did you start a cult? That’s so sweet!”). Coach Kilmer, meanwhile, is not merely a martinet, not merely a racist martinet, but an actively evil racist martinet — a man so irredeemably vile that at one point he threatens to monkey with Mox’s stellar transcript and destroy the kid’s future if he deviates from the Coyote playbook (all that’s missing is a scene in which Kilmer is revealed to also be a serial rapist). In the end, Mox sticks to his iconoclastic guns, but the plot within which he’s rebelling is as formulaic as geometry class.