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Side Out (June 21/04)

It's hard to pinpoint just where Side Out goes horribly wrong. It's certainly not in the casting, because how can you go wrong with Peter Horton as a grizzled ex-volleyball champ? Or Weekend at Bernie's dead guy Terry Kiser playing a hard-as-nails lawyer? The film is essentially an underdog story, a genre that's almost foolproof. Almost.

C. Thomas Howell is Monroe, a hotshot young attorney who's just moved to California to begin working for his sleazy uncle Max (Kiser). The lure of the beach quickly proves irresistable for Monroe, especially after spotting a gorgeous waitress named Samantha (Courtney Thorne-Smith). After attempting to serve the elusive Zack Barnes (Horton) with eviction papers, Monroe finds himself intrigued by the world of beach volleyball. He and a friend enter a high-stakes tournament, but after said friend is injured, Zack must shake off his self-doubt and step back into the ring.

It's the kind of storyline that's essentially inviting parody - imagine what the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys could've done with this - which isn't necessarily a bad thing. With the right sensibility, Side Out had the potential to be a fun and silly beach romp. But writer David Thoreau bogs things down with superfluous elements, including a pointless subplot involving Zack's ex-wife and her attempts to convince him to throw a pivotal match. In terms of conflict, there's enough of that directed towards Zack and Monroe by the professional volleyball players; the stuff with Zack's ex-wife doesn't add a thing to the movie, though Harley Jane Kozak does try admirably in the role.

Another insurmountable problem is the casting of Howell in the central role. Though he's not a terrible actor, he does exude a certain amount of smugness and arrogance - something that makes it virtually impossible to root for Monroe. Horton is fine as the washed-up former pro, while Kiser is easily the best thing about the movie (he's essentially playing a variation on his pre-corpse Bernie character). But the bottom line is that the film just isn't terribly entertaining. The film's resolution is a foregone conclusion, and there's not much here to keep us interested up to that point.

out of

© David Nusair