Craptastic Cinema: Tuff Turf (1985)

Good day, I’m Julian André, and welcome to Craptastic Cinema.

We have an exquisitely craptacular film on today’s docket. The devastatingly handsome James Spader, ravishing Kim Richards, and devilishly cute druggie Robert Downey, Jr. star in the 1985 teen action-drama, Tuff Turf. I love it! And it’s perfectly horrid! Let’s introduce the main characters, shall we?

Morgan (Spader) – He’s a rebel. A new kid in town. We know this because of clunky exposition in scenes with his father as well as with his high school principal in which all is spelled out for us. (And also from the box cover.)


Frankie (Richards) – She’s the hooker with a heart of gold whom Morgan falls for. Well, she might not actually be a trollop but she sure dresses like one—and I, like Morgan, would very much like to visit the intersection of where her long hair and legs meet up. TMI, you say? Probably. Moving on…


Jimmy (Downey) – After simply hearing about him on Morgan’s first day of school the left-of-center drummer becomes Morgan’s best bud/sidekick. (Never mind that we’re told Morgan struggles to make friends.)


On with the particulars:
Frankie is the set-up gal for psycho-boyfriend Nick’s (Paul Mones) band of ruffians. While assaulting their mark, Morgan rides through on his bike and foils the gang’s mischief whilst single-handedly making them all look foolish. When Nick espies Morgan the next day, he vows revenge. Jimmy catches wind of Nick’s intentions and warns new kid Morgan. Matters not. After school Nick taunts Morgan and crushes his expensive bike. Not so terrible so far…

Time for the mundane exposition scenes and requisite soul-searching. I’ll spare you the details.

Morgan is invited by Jimmy to see him play at a warehouse party; he spots Frankie there with her girlfriends. They dance, and although she rebuffs him, Nick shows up and sees them together. Morgan is caught outside before getting into a Porsche and is beaten up. While he lies prostrate Nick takes Morgan’s car keys and drives the Porsche away with his dastardly cohorts in tow. But the joke’s on Nick: En route to the party Morgan noticed the untended Porsche with the keys still in the ignition…and pilfered them. The scoundrels in the stolen car are quickly pulled over and arrested. What fun!

Light comic relief follows as Jimmy steals Nick’s Camaro and goes after Morgan, who is startled and then relieved when discovering it is not Nick behind the wheel. What a scamp Jimmy is! Together they pull the same trick on Frankie and her girlfriend who get in before noticing the ruse. Soon they’re crashing a Beverly Hills country club restaurant where Morgan serenades a smitten Frankie at a piano with the cringe-inducing ballad “I Walk the Night.” Let us delight in its awfulness…

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Can it get any better/worse than that? Oh my, yes.

On a date later that night Kim’s dance double Frankie struts her stuff in the seemingly obligatory ‘80s music video interlude where overrated bar band Jack Mack & the Heart Attack shamelessly mugs their way through their undoubted finest hour (well, 3 minutes).

Nick gets out of jail, beats up Morgan (again), shoots his dad, beats up Frankie’s widower father, then tells Morgan to meet him at the warehouse (the producers know how to keep costs down) for a final showdown—where he shoots Jimmy for good measure. Whew!
There, Frankie angrily confronts her pistol-packing, unredeemable ex-beau: “How many bullets are left in this gun, Nick? Enough for Morgan? For my father? For everybody else who doesn’t fit in your turf?”
That’s a truly fantastic speech. I’m serious.
But hold on. Where, dear reader, have I heard that before? Hmmm, now I remember:

Maria: How many bullets are left, Chino? Enough for you, and you? …How many can I kill, Chino? How many?! And still have one bullet left for me?

So the hapless writers stole outright from West Side Story. Inspired!

More horrible than the suspenseless happy ending, though, is an epilogue where a clearly uncomfortable cast joins Jack Mack & the Heart Attack aping a performance (again!) during the end credits. Sublimely atrocious.

Add in dreadful dialogue like this:

Frankie: I thought things were supposed to be easy when you have money.
Morgan: It is, if you don’t take it seriously.
Frankie: How do you do that?
Morgan: By letting it go. I don’t think you can hold onto anything until you let it go.

…and this:

Morgan: What do I do right now?
Stuart (Dad): Right now, you do what you… really wanna do… Look, son. Life isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s a mystery to be lived.

…plus a cheap, tinny ‘80s electronic score and you have a film that’s absolutely contemptible. And yet, one cannot turn away from Spader’s anti-hero smarm, Downey’s outsider hipness, nor Richard’s brazen sexuality. The formulaic plot is oddly comforting, as is the complete cheesiness of the sets, direction, music …well, everything. See for yourself:

Is Tuff Turf bad? No question. So should you watch it? Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes! It’s badness is glorious! But you will hate yourself for loving it so
…as I do.

I’m Julian André, humble scrivener, blogging exclusively for MovieFanFare. Until next time, I bid you a fond adieu!