"Rudy" (1993) is one of those stories that could only be told about an institution like Notre Dame University. If anybody tried to make a film about a scrub trying to make the varsity at UCLA or Nebraska, they would never get it off the ground. As it is, Rudy Ruettiger had his share of troubles pitching the true tale of his appearance in Notre Dame's final 1975 game to Hollywood.
"I had an appointment with a producer," Ruettiger recalls, "but he didn't show up at the appointed time and place. I was in Santa Monica, and I knew he lived nearby, so I asked the postman if he knew this guy."
Ruettiger looks enough like the Midwestern rube he has been portrayed as than the sort of city psychopath the mailman might have suspected him to be, because he sent him right to the guy's house. The producer tried to fend Rudy off by telling him he was not a Notre Dame fan, but it ended up at Orion Pictures anyway, and was released just as the 1993 college football season was getting underway. Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz actually was threatened with N.C.A.A. penalties because he showed a bootleg copy to his players prior to the opener, trying to inspire the boys a la Knute Rockne. The infraction was providing entertainment to his team not available to the rest of the student body (somebody ought to go on a secret mission to Shawnnee Mission, Kansas and do a demolition of this near-useless organization). Anyway, it worked that day and most days in '93, as the Irish came within one loss to Boston College of the National Championship, but that is a different Irish tale. Despite a pretty good reception, the movie did not save Orion from folding up its operation about a year later.
Patty Duke's son, Sean Astin (remember him in "Like Father, Like Son" with Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron?) stars as a blue-collar kid from a blue-collar family. He is a poor student, and a below-average high school football player despite his very best efforts. Upon graduation he goes to work in the steel mill just like everybody who ever lived in his home town, yet still clings to the fantasy of going to play ball in South Bend. Everybody scoffs at his craziness except his best buddy, who considers Rudy's goal quite within reach.
When that buddy is killed in a mill accident, Rudy realizes it is now or never. Despite being closer to graduation than freshman age, he journeys to South Bend, is met by many obstacles and a kindly priest, enrolls in a junior college and makes good enough grades to get into N.D.
Once there, he tries out for the football team, is kept around for four years as a "tackling dummy," but due to his popularity on the team and among the student body, new coach Dan Devine fulfills old coach Ara Parseghian's promise to let him play a few minutes. Rudy even makes a tackle during garbage time of a game against Michigan State.
Director David Anspaugh ("Hoosiers") focuses on the character development of Angelo Pizzo's screenplay. The story is predictable (being true it was not easy to hide), but that matters less than Astin's inspired gullibility. Charles Dutton is terrific as the stadium groundskeeper, and Ned Beatty is great as his dad.
Look, if you hate Notre Dame, this film will probably make you sick, but if you can at least tolerate the mythology for a couple hours, "Rudy" is one of the better sports movies of recent years.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism