THE BEST OF TIMES is a typical football story, where the underdog wins the game. In THE BEST OF TIMES, the underdog is a collection of out-of-shape, out-of-practice middle-aged men who prepare for a re-match, a football game against their better-prepared counterparts from across the highway. In this film, the underdogs are from Taft, California, a real town that still has a functioning oil well industry. The better prepared team is from Bakersfield, a major city in California.
During the re-match of the football game, the underdogs begin by playing poorly. But the team's abilities improve after a sudden thunderstorm douses the field and changes it to mud. The change appears due to the fact that their star player, Reno Hightower, joins the team.
Most of the time spent in THE BEST OF TIMES is devoted to Robin Williams' efforts in convincing the people of Taft that a high school football game, from some 15 years back, should be re-played with the original players, most of them tubby in their middle age. In order to convince the townsfolk to agree for a re-match of the football game, Robin Williams secretly paints inflammatory graffiti in an effort to stir up the emotions of the townsfolk of Taft.
This film contains excellent images from Taft, California. The film begins with an excellent narrative of the early history of Taft. Recently (April 2006), I discovered Taft, and visited the Oil Museum, and generally enjoyed the intriguing aesthetics of the hundreds of bobbing oil wells found in the area. The Oil Museum has a tiny gift shop, with mugs, featuring a black drawing of a wooden oil well structure. The film lovingly features the bobbing oil wells as a backdrop for much of the acting.
LOCAL COLOR. THE BEST OF TIMES dwells lovingly on the local color of the town, for example, on employees in an auto repair shop, members of a men's club (Caribou Club) busy with one of their meetings, amateur female singers in a lounge, and a high school dance. All of these local color scenes are convincing and are a genuine representation of activities that occur occur thousands of times each day, in the United States of America.
COMEDY. A fair number of clever sight gags enliven the plot. For example, Robin Williams plays a bank worker. But the bank president teases him for making his high school team lose an important game, years earlier. The bank president teases him by taking off his cowboy hat, tossing it around and fumbling with it, as though it was the football that Robin Williams had dropped. Another sight gag consists of Robin Williams driving a broken-down loaner automobile. While coming to a halt, he crashes it into a low brick wall, making the bricks scatter about. (Nothing else is made of this accident. It is just a quick sight gag that comes and goes.) Another amusing part occurs during the football game, where a member of the opposing team is a former convict who calls himself, "DOCTOR DEATH."
CRITIQUE. The film suffers from its periodic bad language. Once might be enough. But the bad language in this film continues, again and again and again and again and again. Isn't there a bowdlerized version of this movie that can be shown to kids? Also, I really didn't like the bedroom scene with Robin Williams and his wife getting undressed together. These scenes make the movie inappropriate for kids. Also, Robin Williams is too hairy. The film did very poorly at the box office, despite having two of the highest profile A-list male actors in America, and despite being a sports movie. While I am not much of a movie-goer, here is my layperson's opinion. The dinner scene was not very good. The script for this particular part of the movie was terrible. The script for the dinner scene, where two couples are attempting to reconcile, should have been tossed out and re-written. The script was intended to show two married couples, who are not comfortable with each other. Woody Allen has done better writing for this type of situation. Another problem was the bedroom scene with Holly Palance. The bedroom scene was not convincing. One problem here was that Holly Palance is completely lacking in ta-tas. To repeat, if a movie is going to include a bedroom scene where the female love interest is wearing a thin negligee, the director should take care to avoid using an actress totally lacking in you-know-what. The fact that Holly Palance totally lacks any you-know-what caused this particular love scene to be a bit weird. A better tactic might have been to leave out this particular love scene. This scene did not click.
CONCLUSION. This film is a must for fans of California history. Taft played an important role in California's oil industry. The film is yet another great example of a sports movie where the underdogs prevail at the end. But for those interested in sports movies about underdogs, there are some better choices, for example, RUDY (football), MIRACLE (ice hockey also featuring Kurt Russell), THE ROOKIE (baseball), and HOOSIERS (basketball). If you find yourself traveling along the vast wasteland of a journey, along Route 5, from Los Angeles,CA to Sacramento, CA, I would emphatically recommend stopping to see the oil well museum in Taft, CA, and then picking up a copy of THE BEST OF TIMES, in order to view your vacation spot.