We continue with our four-part review of every volleyball movie ever made.
The first serve Tuesday included Spiker, Miracle Season and Girls With Balls. This installment of volleyball movies has Top Gun (the highest-profile volleyball film scene ever), Cloud 9 (likely the most insulting volleyball plot to date but we interviewed Gabrielle Reece), and Miles (the story of a boy taking up volleyball to seek a scholarship at Loyola by competing on his school’s girls team).
IMDB rating: 6.9/10
Focus on volleyball: 1/10
Volleyball Realism: 4/10
Box office receipts: $356,830,601
MPAA rating: PG-13, 110 minutes
Trailer: Watch it here
Available: UHD (out 5/19), DVD, Amazon Prime Video ($2.49/rent, $8.49/own)
Some might consider the choice of Top Gun as a volleyball movie controversial, as the volleyball scene itself is only 1 minute, 46 seconds (the scene begins at :41, in case Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis, and fighter jets aren’t enough to capture your interest). The volleyball itself takes only 82 seconds.
However, like it or not, Top Gun is the pinnacle of mainstream visibility in our sport.
Where most volleyball movies head straight to DVD or VHS, Top Gun is the bully that dominates and takes the lunch money — with a filming budget of $15 million, and box office receipts exceeding $350 million — of every other volleyball movie combined and squared.
The movie is centered on the competition between Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Iceman (Val Kilmer), two Navy fighter cadets vying for the Top Gun award for being the most promising cadet.
Along the way Maverick has a complicated relationship with civilian instructor Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis).
Spoiler alert: Do not read the next paragraph if you’ve been hiding underneath a rock since 1986.
Maverick, a talented but impulsive pilot, comes face to face with his own demons after Goose (Anthony Edwards) dies when the pair are forced to eject.
The thin and predictable plot is counterbalanced by the dramatic dogfights between the F14 Tomcat and the Russian MiG 28 fighter, cinematic sequences that hold up well to this day, even more so in a decent surround-sound/subwoofer setup.
The volleyball scene itself is reasonable enough when one considers that the players aren’t supposed to be winning AVP championships. They’re Navy fighter pilots playing recreational beach volleyball on a sagging net. Still, the wardrobe choices were questionable: Maverick, Iceman, and Slider were all rocking the bare-chested bluejeans look, while only Goose had the good sense to wear shorts.
True to Hollywood, the stars had volleyball doubles cleverly edited into the shots.
Top Gun held a try-out for the volleyball doubles in the summer of 1985 at San Diego State, with around a dozen auditioning for the four parts.
One of them was Andy Aguiar, a former Santa Barbara City College and San Diego State outside hitter who was good enough to spend extensive time training in the USA men’s national-team gym, although he never made any international rosters.
Aguiar was selected to play the role of Slider, along with John Eddo (who played Iceman), Russ Bird (Goose), and Mike Schneider (Maverick). The filming of the scene required two weekends, where they built a court at the Miramar AFB next to the softball diamond, Aguiar said.
“They would put the actors in, we would teach them timing, and how to hit, how to dig while they were filming,” Aguiar said. “The best of the four actors was Anthony Edwards, he was from Laguna Beach. He grew up playing, where the other three were beginners at best. That was challenging and frustrating for the actors to see us play and that they couldn’t do it. We tried to show them how to hit, how to time a set, how to dive.”
Two-man beach volleyball is a tough sport to learn in a weekend. The actors were just trying to take big dramatic swings at the ball to create the illusion that they were competent spikers. Aguiar remembers one incident during filming.
“Like anyone else, they were tearing down nets, hitting balls into the cameras, and into the audience.
“In fact, Tom Cruise hit one ball that was out so far it hit the cyclone fencing to keep everybody out, and hit it so badly that it came down on the cyclone fence and popped it. It was fricking hilarious, everyone was dying. He was embarrassed, but he was just trying to make contact, and we didn’t really care where it went, we just wanted to get something on film.”
Aguiar, a mortgage broker specializing in reverse mortgages for more than 25 years, recalls that the extras weren’t a significant part of the film’s $15 million budget.
“They gave us $500 each and we didn’t get any on-screen credits,” Aguiar said. “We didn’t have to sign up for the Screen Actors Guild, just got straight cash, and we weren’t invited to the premiere.”
Aguiar added that it was a lot of fun being part of a big-budget production.
“It was an excellent experience, no question,” he said. “It was a neat situation. They provided lunch. We had no idea how it would end up and how iconic the whole movie was going to be.”
And for you fans of Top Gun, the next shining moment is coming. The sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” is expected for December 23, featuring Cruise, Kilmer, and Jennifer Connelly, and Val Kilmer. You can see the trailer here.
IMDB rating: 4.2/10
Focus on volleyball: 7/10
Volleyball realism: 6/10
MPAA rating: R, 93 minutes
Trailer: Watch it here
Let’s start with the fact that there are three Cloud 9 movies. It is not the 2015 Cloud 9 spoofing big box stores, it’s not the 2014 Cloud 9 snowboarder movie, it’s the 2006 Cloud 9 where strippers become AVP champions.
I’ll pause a moment for dramatic effect.
Yes: Strippers becoming AVP champions.
Ignoring the insult to our sport that the plot provides, here’s a brief synopsis: Down-and-out former star Billy Cole (Burt Reynolds) decides that strippers would make excellent beach volleyball players after watching their thrusting and squatting moves at the Cloud 9 gentlemen’s club.
They begin training, but are dismayed because they aren’t respected because they’re, well, strippers.
But after a Baywatch-style video training montage, they are now fully prepared for the Zuma Beach volleyball tournament. Then when Corazon (Patricia De Leon, who appeared in Bad Ass) is injured on the final point of the semifinals (against pro beach qualifiers Catie Vagneur Mintz and Jen Hoft Henderson), Julie Carr (former Sports Illustrated model Angie Everhart, who was in Last Action Hero) subs in for the AVP Huntington Beach final.
As it turns out, Julie is a former All-Conference player for Pepperdine and Olympic hopeful under the name Wanda Blair, who suffered a nervous breakdown.
In the final, Julie goes up against former AVP pro Jennifer Meredith and Christina Hanson (Gabrielle Reece, who also had a part in Gattaca), and it comes out that the pair have a history: Hanson was Julie’s Olympic-team backup.
Spoiler alert: Unsurprisingly, Julie and Champagne make it to the final against Christina and Jen Meredith. In the third-set tiebreaker, Julie blocks Christina to go up 16-15, but comes down with cramps in both legs. Dramatically, Billy carries her out to the court to finish the match, where she instantly regains full mobility and puts down the match winner after an extended rally, winning the respect of the crowd and her opponents.
Reece has built a significant filmography on both the big and small screen, also working on projects like Gattaca, 8 Simple Rules, Arli$$, and Cybill.
She took this role, because, well, Burt Reynolds asked her.
“I had this FSU connection with Burt (Reynolds was a running back at Florida State in 1954 until a knee injury ended his football career). He was the man, and a huge FSU supporter. And when he asks … ”
Of course, the 6-foot-3 Reece was herself an All-Metro Conference middle at FSU who set school records for solo blocks (240) and total blocks (747). She went on to the beach, dabbling in doubles (earned a pair of thirds in 1999 with Holly McPeak) but found success on the 4man tour, captaining the Nike team.
However, Reece is better known off the court, including for her work as a model and Nike spokesperson. She also knew Cloud 9 co-star Everhart.
“I knew Angie from my modeling days,” Reece said. “It’s hard for an actor to step into a beach volleyball movie. I think beach volleyball is one of the hardest sports for an actor to realistically play.
“The love I have for the game of volleyball is forever. That’s how I went to school. It kept me on a very good path during harder times in my adolescence. Volleyball is not only a fun and beautiful game, but it impacted me in a really profound way.”
Reece and husband Laird Hamilton, a big-wave surfer, split their time between Malibu and Hawai’i. Due to Hawai’i’s quarantine policies, it’s currently easier for them to shelter in Malibu with their children Reece and Brody.
“I haven’t had a chance to play in the last four years,” Reece said. “And I’m not as good as I’d like to be when I can’t practice at all. I almost respect the sport too much to do it that way.”
IMDB rating: 5.8/10
Focus on volleyball: 6/10
Volleyball realism: 7/10
Box office receipts: $2,537
MPAA rating: NR, 90 minutes
Trailer: Watch it here
Available: DVD (PAL, Region 2—don’t buy unless you have a multi-region DVD player), Amazon Prime Video (Included w/membership, $2.49/rent, $13.49/own)
You’d be excused if you missed the theatrical debut of the movie Miles. It was released June 9, 2017, and garnered $2,147 in box-office receipts at two theaters, according to IMDB.com.
Miles is the story of a gay senior at Pondley High School in 1999, said to be inspired by a true story, starring Tim Boardman (who was in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). Miles’ father Ron (Stephen Root, who was in Barry) dies of heart issues, upon which it is discovered that his father has spent Miles’ entire college fund buying his mistress a Corvette.
Miles, an aspiring filmmaker, dreams of escaping small-town Pondley for metropolitan Chicago. In desperation he grasps the hope that he could earn a volleyball scholarship to Loyola University and thus escape Pondley.
This despite the fact that he is now a senior in high school and has never competed in organized volleyball before, let alone the fact that men’s volleyball has limited scholarships available.
Without giving away too much, Miles’ stint on the girls’ team meets stiff resistance, not only from the public, but his mother Pam Walton (Molly Shannon, who was in Superstar), his principal Mr. Wilson (Ethan Phillips, Star Trek Voyager), and superintendent Lloyd (played by Paul Reiser, whose credits include the long-running TV show Mad About You).
His coach, Leslie Wayne (Missi Pyle, Galaxyquest) nearly steals the show by defending Miles at every turn.
Unusually for a volleyball movie, the acting was quite good. Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for the script, which was definitely the Achilles’ heel of the movie. The movie is rife with plot-lines that were never fully developed, from rudimentary 1999 internet chats with gay friends in Chicago to Miles’ aspiring cinematic desires, to his mother Pam’s dalliance with school superintendent Lloyd.
Miles had some athleticism, but unlike some other volleyball movies, he looked reasonably athletic, could almost form a decent platform, and at least he didn’t hit the net every time he took a swing.
The other volleyball players were all competent and played realistic small high-school level ball. However, the fact that Miles fails to dominate on a sagging girls net that wasn’t much over 6 feet in the middle should speak volumes about his ability to earn a scholarship anywhere.
The acting and casting were excellent. Since it’s currently included with Amazon Prime video, it’s an OK watch, just be sure to grab your snacks and take bathroom breaks during the volleyball scenes.
Thursday: Side Out, Impact Point, and Air Bud Spikes Back