Review: The Best Sports Movie . . . You Probably Didn’t See

Donner, Richard. Inside Moves. 1980. Goodmark Productions Incorporated. Film.

Reviewed by Jon Hart

inside moves‘Tis the season for the “best of” lists. When the best sports movies of all-time are listed, there’s one gem that’s overlooked. Perhaps it’s because Inside Moves, which was released in 1980, doesn’t resort to the usual sports movie tropes. In fact, most probably don’t consider it “a sports movie” at all. For starters, most of Inside Moves’ characters are disabled. This band of underdogs hang out at a bar called Max’s, where they lean on one another. Coincidentally, Max’s was also the name of the bar in Invincible. One of Max’s bartenders, Jerry, played by actor David Morse, has immense basketball talent, but he needs an operation for his damaged leg, so he can take his game beyond the playground. Jerry’s best friend, Roary, played by actor John Savage, is the film’s backbone. Roary’s development is just as, if not more, vital to the story as Jerry’s basketball pursuits. Inside Moves also tackles such dark topics as suicide and drug addiction. And one of the pivotal characters is a prostitute. No, Inside Moves isn’t Rudy.  

Before it got the big screen treatment, Inside Moves was a novel. Author Todd Walton wrote it at a bar. Not surprisingly, he was playing a lot of basketball at the time. Initially, Walton titled it The Gimp, but his publishers requested something more commercial. Fortunately, Walton’s brother came up with perfection. Initially, famed producer Robert Evans wanted to make it. However, he asked Walton to make some changes to the book before it was published. Walton declined. Regardless, Evans wasn’t getting the support he needed from his colleagues to make Inside Moves a reality. Fortunately, director Richard Donner, who was coming off Superman, came to the rescue. With no movie studios stepping up, Donner raised funds independently.

Eventually, Inside Moves made it to the small screen, actually one screen. According to Donner, Inside Moves was released around the holidays at one theater with little or no promotion. It did garner some critical reviews though. Actress Diana Scarwid, who plays a Max’s waitress, was nominated for her work. Savage, perhaps known best for his work in The Deer Hunter, and Morse, then a veteran stage actor but film rookie, were just as worthy of such accolades. Inside Moves is profoundly poignant.

Of course, there are some sports scenes in Inside Movies. Morse, who is 6-4, is very believable as a baller. Ironically, Morse took up acting after he didn’t make his high school basketball team. During filming, Morse was coached by a former UCLA player, and he was also aided by a stunt double. Currently, Morse can be seen in Showtime’s Escape At Dannemora. Worth noting as far as sports movie cred: Actor Tony Burton, who plays Apollo Creed’s trainer in Rocky, has a supporting role in Inside Moves.

Almost three decades after its release, Inside Moves still has game – big time.

Follow Jon Hart @ManVersusBall

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