Not your typical high-school drama that coasts by on the devastating good looks of its young stars. “Varsity Blues” smartly plays both sides of the coin, delivering the teenage goods; the heartthrob cast, a hip soundtrack and the requisite smattering of fleshy posing, all while subtly encompassing the bigger, more affirming issues in life.
“Dawson Creek” stud, James Van der Beek plays John Moxon, a back-up quarterback for a small town Texas high-school, where football is a life-force and the school’s coach (Jon Voight with the piercing intensity of a viper) is a deity, above-the-law. For all his chiseled-jawed charisma, Moxon is a closeted book worm who’s most coveted goal is to get accepted into an Ivy League college, but all that changes when the starting quarterback (Paul Walker) goes down to injury and Moxon is forced into the limelight, where he becomes an instant gridiron hero. Naturally adversity finds Moxon, both on and off the field, mostly in the form of his patronizing coach and his longtime sweetheart, who abhors football. Moxon’s hardened conviction to his goals, his girlfriend and his teammates, at times, teeters on the realm of overt hokiness, but Van der Beek’s proficiently understated performance is refreshing enough to help raise “Varsity Blues” above its cliche trappings.