From a mansion in Connecticut to lower middle class housing in a California suburb, is where high school senior, Morgan Hiller, finds himself at the start of the film “Tuff Turf.” His father, Stuart (Matt Clark) has lost his once prosperous business and has relocated Morgan and his mother, Page (Claudette Nevins), to the west coast. While studying to receive his California real estate license, Stuart works at night as a cab driver in order to support his wife and son. Morgan, portrayed by three time Emmy winner James Spader (The Blacklist), doesn’t take himself, or anything else for that matter, too seriously. His attitude toward life, however, will soon change. (As an aside: This was the first film James Spader received top billing for).
The evening before Morgan begins his first day at his new school, he interrupts the mugging of a business man (Francis X. McCarthy) at a bus stop. The group of teens, mugging the man, led by Nick Hauser (Paul Mones) also happen to be students at the school Morgan will be attending. The gang which includes members Mickey (Panchito Gomez) and Eddie (Michael Wyle) will soon become an unwelcome and violent presence in Morgan’s life. Morgan, however, is primarily concerned with Nick’s girlfriend Frankie Croydon played by Kim Richards (Escape to Witch Mountain). He becomes instantly smitten with her, to the risk of his own safety. Frankie lives with her father (Lou Fant), who owns a neighborhood store. Her mother has been deceased for a few years prior to the start of the film. Her father wants to see Frankie get married and start a family, but she wants more for herself, something which Morgan will learn and encourage.
Things aren’t all bad for Morgan at his new school. He befriends Jimmy, a role acted by BAFTA and three time Golden Globe winner Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes). He’s a drummer in a rock band and will wind up becoming a needed ally in Morgan’s battle with Nick. The new friends share a love of music and mischief. (As an aside: Spader and Downey Jr. met for the first time while filming “Tuff Turf” and have remained close friends ever since).
Is Frankie worth Morgan risking his life for? Can he defeat Nick? Furthermore, even if he does, can he win Frankie’s love? I’ll hold off on the answers to those questions for those of you who would like to see the film, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
“Tuff Turf” premiered in theaters on January 11, 1985. The film was directed by Fritz Kiersch (The Hunt) and written for the screen by Jette Rinck based on a story by Greg Collins O’Neill and Murray Michaels. Parts action, comedy, and drama the film has a runtime of 112 minutes.
Fans of Spader and Downey Jr. should get a kick out of seeing the two burgeoning stars at the outset of their respective careers. Fans of the original 1975 Disney film “Escape to Witch Mountain” might remember that Kim Richards played the role of Tia, one of the stars of the film. Overall, I found “Tuff Turf” to be both serious and silly, but most of all entertaining.