Volleyball movies: We continue with Side Out, Impact Point, Air Bud Spikes Back

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Volleyball Movies 3 5/7/2020-Sinjin Smith

We’re all quarantined. No volleyball.

But there are volleyball movies!

Here are three more, two of which had a pretty high volleyball-reality rating, and another with a volleyball-playing dog. Sometimes we’ll take what we can get.

Side Out
Released: 1990
IMDB rating: 4.0/10
Focus on volleyball: 9/10
Volleyball realism: 8/10
Box Office receipts: $449,868 (per IMDB)
Filming budget: $6,000,000 (per IMDB)
MPAA rating: R, 100 minutes
Trailer: Watch it here
Available: DVD $17.99, Prime Video ($2.49/rent, $11.49/own), YouTube ($3.99/rent, $12.99/own), VHS ($33.98 new, $1.99/used)

Monroe Clark (C. Thomas Howell, who was in The Outsiders) is a Midwestern basketball player spending his summer in California working for his Uncle Max (Terry Kiser, who was in Weekend at Bernie’s) in order to earn tuition money. 

He runs afoul of his uncle’s good graces, and so ends up spending his summer at the beach, befriending washed-up beach volleyball pro Zack Barnes (Peter Horton). The pair set their sights on winning the Classic, where they meet their nemeses Rollo Vincent (played by the great Randy Stoklos) and Billy Cross (played by the legendary Sinjin Smith).

With former AVP president Jon Stevenson as technical volleyball director, old-school volleyballers will recognize a host of yesteryear’s pros as well.

Horton exhibits some of the best beach skills performed by an actor. Howell’s noodly armswing is reasonable enough until he commits perhaps the single most embarrassing volleyball moment on film, a super-slow-motion 180-degree doubled-jump-backset in which he undoubtedly netted.

Smith remembers the moment the players learned that the jump-backset would be used as the focal point of the final.

“That was something that we shot early on in the movie, and we didn’t realize that they were going to use that until the voice-overs, when all the shooting was done,” Smith said. “We brought that to their attention, but of course there were no other options at that point.”

Smith, one of the all-time beach volleyball greats with over 140 wins, acknowledged Horton’s beach volleyball skills.

“Peter would hang out with us at Sorrento Beach local before all this happened. He was a Santa Monica guy, and actually, he was a good friend of mine and was in my wedding,” Smith said. “He had some skills, so it didn’t look as awkward.”

Howell was on the learn-as-you go program.

“C. Thomas Howell was a good athlete,” Smith said. “He had good physical ability, was a good basketball player, but he didn’t have any volleyball experience. 

“Everything he learned, he learned on the spot, basically.” 

At that time, Smith had a flourishing modeling career, with over 20 TV commercials to his credit. Side Out is still paying off.

“I still get residuals from the movie, nothing to speak of,” he said. “We didn’t get paid a ton, but it was fun to be a part of movie, and to expose our sport to more people. It was more to market and continue to expose the sport. 

“And, It was fun as all get-out.”

Many of the players tried to help out the actors as much as they could on set. 

“I spent time with Peter, and with all of the actors, giving them pointers and tips along the way. I just remember being down there and taking them aside to work on specific things for specific shots.”

Smith, who won nine events during the 1989 season, tried not to let the movie-making schedule interfere with his AVP tour schedule.

“They filmed the game sequences with bleachers and stage at Zuma Beach,” Smith recalled. “They shot it in just a few weeks.”

That day, the pro players were leaving for a tournament and had a 6 p.m. flight out of LAX.

“And they said, ‘We need you until at least 4 o’clock.’ “

Smith said the producers offered a solution: “What if we get you a helicopter?”

And they did.

“So they got us a helicopter, they landed it on the other side of the highway just north of Zuma beach, at the fire station, dropped us in the parking lot right across from the airline, we walked across the bridge, went right into the terminal, got onto our flight and left,” Smith said.

“It was awesome. It was so much fun on the helicopter, doing the whole thing. It was all great fun.”

Volleyball Movies 3 5/7/2020-Impact Point, Brittany Hochevar

Impact Point
Released: 2008
IMDB rating: 4.2/10
Focus on volleyball: 9/10
Volleyball realism: 7/10
MPAA rating: R, 90 minutes
Filming budget: $2,200,000
Trailer: Watch it here
Available: DVD $7.95, Amazon Prime Video ($2.49/rent, $11.49/own), YouTube ($3.99/rent, $12.99 own), YouTube 

Kelly Reyes (Melissa Keller, who was in Love Hurts), an up-and-coming AVP pro, loses a tough AVP Championship semifinal to bitter rival Jen Crowe (whose credits include Vampire Diaries) and Diana Wilkes (AVP pro Janelle Ruen Allen). When her partner retires, and Wilkes dies in a suspicious hit-and-run, she finds herself partnering with Reyes in an attempt to improve their finish. 

Meanwhile, an intriguing reporter, Holden Gregg (played by Brian Austin Green, who appeared in 90210) enters her life. Reyes and Crowe end up finding they have more in common than they thought going into the final event of the year, the AVP Championship.

With Dane Selznick as technical advisor, the astute volleyball fan will recognize plenty of faces, including Dain Blanton, Sarah Straton, Chris McGee, Brittany Hochevar, Keao Burdine, John King, Catie Vagneur Mintz, Suzanne Stonebarger Barnes, and Chrissie Zartman.

Thanks to volleyball coach Cameron Green (Mira Costa, Long Beach, and USC), Keller and Ewell do a creditable job of playing beach volleyball and moving in the sand, despite a lack of upper body strength. Keller even manages to pull off a reasonable jump serve despite a tendency to go goofy-footed and only learning to jump serve on the day of filming. You wouldn’t mistake them for AA players, but neither do they embarrass themselves like so many other volleyball movies.

The plot is relatively transparent. Without giving away too much, undoubtedly over 90 percent of you will have figured out who the villain is by the halfway point of the movie.  

Is it worth 90 minutes (or $3.99 to rent) of your time? In these COVID-19 days, of course it is. The avid beach fan will enjoy the look of the old AVP Crocs days as well as seeing so many recognizable beach volleyball stalwarts. It’s entertaining. Just make sure you manage your expectations properly here.

AVP and Long Beach State star Brittany Hochevar had the opportunity to play Lynne Greene, the film’s protagonist and Reyes-Wilkes’ opponents in the AVP Championship final. We recently profiled Hochevar and her new son Maverick.

Hochevar didn’t get the opportunity to see the movie until much later, renting it at the Blockbuster on Pier Avenue.

“It was fun. I remember being on set, and I think there was a brief moment where I helped write a part of the script,” Hochevar said. “Someone was going back to serve, and I heard a line — I think it might have been ‘Dial it up’ — and giggling, saying, ‘I don’t think any of us would ever say that.’ “

The director overheard Hochevar and asked for her input.

“It was a cheesy line, and we had to correct it, make it less cheesy. We had to lighten the cheese, so to speak.”

Keller and Ewell had no previous beach volleyball experience and had to go from zero to portraying AVP championship finalists with scant weeks of training.

Four-time AVP champion Hochevar remembers what it was like facing actors who are beach volleyball newbies in an AVP final situation.

“Playing against them was kind of like how you would play against a beginner. It’s like peppering with my niece, I guess. You have to reel it in, back it off, hit right to them, which is actually challenging.”

Hochevar, the VolleyballMag.com 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, enjoyed the experience, not only because it provided needed beach volleyball coverage, but because the volleyball community shared in that experience.

“When your sport gets depicted in a movie, you want it to be at a decent level. You want it to be quality play, you want it to show what we stand for. To be honest, that was a little bothersome to me. It still gets portrayed as a backyard picnic type of sport, not something that we train for as hard as we do.”

If Hochevar had one complaint, it’s that directors can have unrealistic expectations of pro athletes. She cites an example during the filming of a commercial for the Islands restaurant chain.

“It was challenging, because when you are a pro, they expect you to do something extremely complex and hit a dime. I did an Islands commercial for the Big Wave burger, and I was hitting a jump serve, and they asked me to hit a board with a hole the size of the ball, put the camera in that hole, and asked me to hit the hole. 

“They expected me to hit that, with one of those terrible white plastic-type of balls, on a men’s height net. So I was ripping this jump serve for about 30 minutes. And I was thinking, ‘Geez, really?’

“And then I actually hit the hole, I didn’t hit it square in the hole, but I hit the hole. And I thought, this is as good as it gets. And then they said, ‘You think you can hit it right here?’

“That’s like asking a golfer if can you hit a hole-in-one on this next clip? I told them, ‘That’s what you’re getting, I’m done here.’ It’s funny, the disconnect.”

Volleyball Movies 3 5/7/2020-Air Bud Spikes Back-Gabrielle Reece

Air Bud Spikes Back 
Released: 2003
IMDB rating: 4.1/10
Focus on volleyball: 6/10
Volleyball realism: 2/10
MPAA rating: G, 87 minutes
Filming budget: $5,000,000 (per IMDB)
Trailer: Watch it here
Available on: DVD ($13.98), Amazon Prime Video ($2.49/rent, $16.49/own), YouTube ($3.99/rent, $17.99/own)

The fifth(!) and final installment of the Air Bud series, Air Bud Spikes Back details the unlikely story of Bud, a golden retriever. Andrea (Katia Pevec, who was in Eagle Eye) and Tammy (Chantal Strand) are best friends. Sadly, Tammy’s family is moving out of Fernfield to San Diego. Andrea needs to raise money so she can visit Tammy in California, but nothing seems to work out.

Then Connor (Tyler Boissonnault, who was in Life as We Know It) moves in next door. He’s looking for a beach volleyball game, and the prize for the league championship match is a trip to Malibu to watch the AVP play, so Andrea is all in as a way to win her dream trip to see Tammy. 

Andrea’s Fernfield Timberwolves are playing well and on a path to the championship match when Sara has to move, leaving the Timberwolves without a setter. In an unlikely move likely to anger volleyball officials everywhere, the referees allow Bud, a golden retriever, to step in and set.

Spoiler alert: Bud and Andrea win the league championship and the trip to Malibu, where she is reunited with her best friend Tammy, and Bud somehow wins an AVP championship after snouting high line on two over the block of Norm Hugo for the win, while partnering with Bud Light 4Man star Gabrielle Reece.

It’s a cute family movie. Your puppy-loving kids will love it, but adults will find it juvenile. The acting is OK and the plot predictable.

The volleyball bears little resemblance to reality. For example, the Timberwolves put away point 23 of the league championships with four hits, leaving the math skills of the editors in doubt. After winning that point, they should have earned the serve but oddly, they receive. 

 One more thing: watching a golden retriever with the vertical leap to block a ball on an eight-foot net exceeds my ability to suspend disbelief.

We asked Reece about partnering with a dog (Bud was actually played by four dogs, Bailey, Brandy, Charlie, and Walker).

“In some ways, it was easier to work with Bud than anyone else. The dog was extremely well trained, and only needed one trainer,” Reece said.

It wasn’t always easy for Bud. The DVD extras show Bud setting a ball out of bounds, then chasing and popping the ball.

With the win in Air Bud and the loss in Cloud 9, it puts Reece 1-1 in volleyball movie finals. It’s not as fortunate for co-star and Pepperdine alum Jennifer Meredith, who has a pair of AVP Tour second-place finishes, one with with Wendy Stammer in 2001, and the other with Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2004.

Meredith’s movies finals record is 0-2, losing to a pair of strippers in Cloud 9, and to a golden retriever in Air Bud.

Reece, who still works with Meredith, laughs about it.

“It really bothered her that she lost to a pair of strippers and a dog.”

Also: If you’re looking for some video-game frustration, try the set-top volleyball game on the DVD extras. I hope you have more luck than I did.

As an aside from the movies, Reece said her funniest moment on camera wasn’t in a volleyball movie but on the TV show Ellen.

“Years ago, when Ellen had her scripted show, she would do these skits. Right before her show started, there was a 30-second skit leading right into the show,” Reece recalled. “Jen was my setter, and the whole idea was that I was going to hit the ball as hard as I could right in front of her, and I did, three, four, five times. 

“And I would hit it, blast it right in front of her, and in the Ellen way, with her timing, she would call ‘Out,’ which is ridiculous, right?

“On the last and final take, I actually hit her, decently hard, kind of in her stomach and pelvis area, and to her credit, she actually waited a second, then she called “Out.’ And they went straight into her show. Ellen was really fun and quite a good sport.”

Friday: Beach Kings (Green Flash), All You’ve Got, Kill Shot (P.C.H.)
ICYMI, Tuesday: Spiker, Miracle Season, Girls With Balls
And Wednesday: Top Gun, Cloud 9, Miles

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