A successful L.A. mystery/romance that features two incredibly beautiful people in a mixed up love triangle. “Against All Odds” is probably best remembered for the title song than the lush Mexican scenery from the first hour or the typical real estate driven plot in the second. It comes from a time when L.A. had three professional football teams playing and the Go Go Eighties were in full swing.
My wife and I saw this opening night on a Friday in 1984, the next day some friends of ours wanted to see it so I returned with them and my wife stayed home. It was after the group of us got back to our apartment that my wife told me she had received a phone call while we were gone and it concerned a friend of mine. He had been murdered and his body was just recovered weeks after the crime. My friend had been involved in some shady business and his partners basically took him for a ride. This movie had so much of that L.A. crime world aura around it, and there is a scene towards the end where one of the characters has basically been told he will not be returning from the car ride that everyone is making. I can never watch this film without thinking of my friend and the wrong turn he took in his life. One of the reasons that it still resonates is that the movie perfectly captures so much about the L.A. scene at the time. The fashions and hairstyles are not obtrusive and the locations have changed only slightly in the thirty years since. “Against All Odds” is a neo noir that still holds up today with only a couple of reservations.Jeff Bridges has a cult like following after his turn in “The Big Lebowski” as the Dude. Fifteen years earlier he was quite the different performer. If you look at his films from the seventies and eighties, he was clearly being cast for his looks as much as his talent. In this film, he has the quintessential L.A. “cool” of the eighties down pat. He’s tanned, he has a beard but it is a well manicured beard, and he dresses well without doing anything more than appearing casual in all of the clothes. He is paired with one of the beautiful women that populated films and television shows in the 1980s, Rachel Ward. Together, they could win an award as the most beautiful couple in California.
Bridges plays a receiver on the L.A. Outlaws football team. Terry is injured and gets cut from the team in a typically cutthroat manner that leaves him in a financial jam. He ends up running an errand for his ex-friend Jake, played by James Woods, looking for the girlfriend that stabbed and then abandoned his old chum. Jake and Terry have history that is hinted at and there is some hold that Jake has over Terry to get him to do this job. Without any other immediate prospects and having been ignored by his lawyer in trying to fix some problems, Terry tries to track down the missing Jessica. She also happens to be the impetuous daughter of the female owner of the football team.
There is a terrific set up of Jake and Terry’s relationship when they first reconnect. They meet at that spot all California films eventually end up at, the beach. It is established that Jake is something of a criminal because he takes book on beach volleyball games and lives in a fantastic house right on the sands. There is a Hollywood Nightclub location that is the focus of a lot of the movie in the later parts. Jake wants Terry to meet him at the club to discuss the job and the two of them fall back into an old habit of racing each other from the beach down Sunset Blvd. to Hollywood. This gives us a thrilling car race between the two down one of the wealthiest stretches of suburban highway in the country.
The two drive like maniacs with one slightly crazier than the other. It is a bravo scene that should piss off every motorist in the city for the high speed idiocy it embodies. It does however, thrill and engage us immediately with these two characters. Listening to the audio commentary revealed that it was shear luck that they were able to film this. They had a permit to close traffic off for 45 seconds at a time. It was the cop on the scene who loved the stunt work done by the coordinator for the film “Bullet” that went ahead and let them manage to get this done.I traveled this road frequently in my younger days, heading over to Beverly Hills or Century City from Hollywood, and it’s not hard to image a couple of a**holes with fast cars trying to treat this route like it was Le Mans. It’s is one of the best maintained views in the city, with no signage, great lawns and hedges and mile after mile of mansions looking gorgeous in the California sun.
Terry takes the job and manages to track Jessica down to Mexico. There we get one of those whirlwind romances that turn the hero and the frightened heiress into lovers with the kind of speed that can only be found on screen. It doesn’t hurt that they spend most of their time in the spots the Mexican Tourist Bureau would hope you think of instead of the unpleasant countryside you might see in ” Y Tu Mamá También” or “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia”. The ocean is blue, the monuments are clean and no drug cartels are waiting to take off the heads of any visitors. Ultimately though, the reality of the danger will return and it will provide us with another link to follow in the plot. Alex Karras plays a coach from the team who was looking out for Terry and now is looking for him. This development plays out a little quick but it is a solid scene in the picture. It let’s us get one last tour of Aztec ruins majestic Mexico before returning to our home location. It would not be a noir if there isn’t a murder and the desperate femme fatale turns out to be an unreliable partner in the game being played. The twist is excruciating after watching the two characters act out their passions for half an hour in front of us. Of course it will not be the last twist in the story and more corruption and murder will follow. Sunny California has plenty of dark secrets both in the sunshine and at night.Back in L.A. we learn what the hold is that Jake has over Terry and once again the screws are turned to get Terry to comply. There is a nightclub sequence that features Kid Creole and the Coconuts, a Latin infused big band act that was a popular attraction in clubs around the country at the time. One of the nice touches of production design that shows us the way the L.A. scene imagined itself, is a shot of the Palace stage from Jake’s office. There is a view through the neon lights and glitz and an etched glass window that sums it all up elegantly.In the early eighties, L.A. was a pro football town. The Raiders won the Superbowl the year this film came out and the Rams were perennial contenders. I suppose that neither the teams or the NFL wanted to be associated with a story that involved sports gambling so instead, the fictional Outlaws were featured. The on field version of the Outlaws at least on the TV games being monitored in one scene was played by the USFL team at the time the LA Express. The USFL played three years and the LA team was not a success, despite the fact that I had season tickets all three years. When you see all the games displayed on the TVs behind Jake at the beach house, these are images from the first season of the USFL. It was convenient that they played at the Coliseum because it gave another LA landmark to look at. Basically the movie ties in old money, football, gambling into a real estate deal that requires some action from a variety of officials.
It seems inevitable that the prime motivation for crime in Southern California is real estate. We even have a section in the local paper that reports when the stars sell their home. In 1984 when this film is set, the most desirable spot for a development would be in the Santa Monica Mountains, west of Bel Air and Beverly Hills, with a magnificent view of the city down to Long Beach and the ocean. Of course this area is part of a conservancy that keeps it relatively undeveloped. If you look behind this shot of Richard Widmark and Jane Greer, featured in the film, you will see that the view they were talking about now belongs to the Getty Museum. Greer starred in the film “Out of the Past” on which this movie is partially based. Along with Widmark, they add another layer of the noir heritage to the movie. The film was conceived and directed by Taylor Hackford, who has made some really terrific films over the years. “The Idolmaker” was a favorite of mine, but it was his success with “An Officer and a Gentleman” that allowed him to get this put together. The movie was a moderate success, in the days when a movie could hold onto 80% of it’s audience in the second and third weeks out. The theme song was the greater success for singer songwriter Phil Collins, who had his first U.S. Number one solo record with the title track.
If you want a timeless view of the sleazy underbelly of L.A. and a conflicted love story featuring classically messed up rich girls and beautiful people, “Against the Odds” is pretty evocative of the times without being dated.