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Review: Inside Moves (1980)

Inside Moves (1980)

Directed by: Richard Donner

Premise: Based on the novel by Todd Walton. Following a failed suicide attempt, a man (John Savage) finds new friends and a new community at a local tavern. He befriends the bartender (David Morse) who aspires to play professional basketball.

What Works: Filmmaker Richard Donner is primarily known for fantastical adventure and genre pictures such as Superman: The Movie, The Goonies, and the Lethal Weapon series. But Donner dabbled in some other types of filmmaking and 1980’s Inside Moves is one of the best films of Donner’s career as well as one of his most underappreciated. It feels much like a 1970s film with its intimate focus and domestic story but the film also possesses an optimism that is much more attuned to the 1980s. Inside Moves is an immensely likable movie largely because of its cast of characters. The film centers upon Roary, a man who tried to kill himself but ended up physically handicapped instead. Roary’s story is of a man finding himself by finding a community and actor John Savage plays the part exceptionally well, carefully gauging his performance throughout the movie. He’s aided by the supporting cast which includes Bill Henderson, Bert Remsen, and Harold Russell as fellow cripples who occupy the bar. The camaraderie between these men is vivid and amiable and the movie shares those qualities. Roary befriends Jerry, a bartender played by David Morse, who is prevented from pursuing his dream of playing professional basketball by a leg injury. Jerry’s aspirations become a collective cause among the disabled, giving them hope. Roary later gets close to Louise, a waitress played by Diana Scarwid and the couple’s shared scenes crackle with romantic tension. Inside Moves is a feel-good and uplifting movie but it avoids unnecessary sentimentality. Like its main character, Inside Moves is earnest and the film deals with real pain but does so with humor and affability.

What Doesn’t: The basketball aspect of the story stretches the movie’s credibility. Jerry gets incredible access to a professional team and one of the players figures importantly into the story. Inside Moves was released in 1980 when professional ballplayers weren’t quite as removed from everyday people as they are four decades later. It’s Jerry’s dream to play professional basketball but that is an unlikely outcome for anyone, much less a man afflicted with a crippling physical disability. The filmmakers sell it well enough in part because athleticism fits so well into the themes of the film and the game is ultimately the background for the interpersonal story between the characters.  

DVD extras: Interviews and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Inside Moves is a movie that’s largely faded into obscurity but it is well worth seeking out. This hidden gem of Richard Donner’s career is full of likable characters in a story that’s uplifting and life affirming without being condensing or soppy.

Episode: #859 (July 11, 2021)