Tri Star Pictures
The Internet provides zero information about what kind of premiere Peter Israelson’s 1990 feature Side Out put on. It was almost assuredly in Los Angeles, probably at one of the many Westwood theaters that still host a number of premieres, and it may have even packed some sort of vague volleyball theme, like sand in the streets or balls chucked at arriving guests. We’ll never know. It’s been lost to time.
(You may scoff at the notion that the web could provide details on a 1990 movie premiere, but when I needed to find out some important information about the 1990 opening of The Forbidden Dance, the Los Angeles Times actually delivered.) No one remembers the Side Out premiere, and no one remembers a Side Out anniversary, a particular cruel blow considering the Internet’s love affair with remembering the anniversaries of lots of odd offerings (was I looking up Forbidden Dance premiere info for an anniversary piece? You bet I was, which makes all the more hard for me to swallow). Side Out turned twenty-five on March 30, 2015, and absolutely no one remembered it.
Side Out is a relatively standard nineties-era outing that combines such classic tropes as “mismatched partners” and “the big game” with “sort of extreme sports” and “also a lot of neon.” C. Thomas Howell stars as a straight-laced law student who heads to California for, well, not sun and fun, but an internship that involves him serving everyday citizens with all sorts of bad news, like evictions. One of his evictees is Peter Horton as super-cool volleyball player Zach Barnes (great name) and, through a series of insane contrivances, Zach and Howell’s Monroe (so preppy) end up as beach volleyball partners. Courtney Thorne-Smith and Terry Kiser co-star, as if you were possibly doubting the film’s nineties street cred.
It’s basically entertaining, mostly silly, and a wonderful snoozy cable watch – and that’s exactly why we should be celebrating it, even entire weeks late.
It’s not that Side Out is important – though, as far as volleyball-centric movies go, it’s probably the best, and I am genuinely confused as to why no one has bothered to remake it now, perhaps with a gender-bent cast – it’s the method by which Side Out was delivered to its audience (read: me) that’s important. I didn’t see Side Out in theaters. I doubt I even wanted to see Side Out in theaters. (I also didn’t see The Forbidden Dance in theaters, so.) I caught Side Out the way I caught so many of the mostly middling, but still weirdly formative PG-13 and up films of my youth: randomly, on cable.
I caught a lot of things randomly, on cable. As a latchkey kid and an only child, I had lots of time to catch up on offerings like Side Out during my younger years (playing outside? Yeah, definitely did that, too, but when you live in Las Vegas from the ages of eight until fifteen, you’ve got plenty of too-hot summertime to while away in front of the small screen). I was one of those kids who had their own television – in their room – which allowed me to watch pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted (this also explains why, even as a kid, my favorite films were Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman, features with negligible redeeming value for the kid set).
My cable diet was steady and it was robust, and it included lots of films like Side Out, including Soul Man, Secret Admirer (what? I liked C. Thomas Howell, okay?), The Cutting Edge, Summer School, Ski School, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Point Break, Airborne, Gleaming The Cube, How I Got Into College, Revenge of the Nerds, One Crazy Summer, Better Off Dead, and pretty much the entire oeuvre of John Hughes.
I have a tremendous soft spot for mainstream films because of my years spent in front of my television and cable box, feasting on the kind of fare that went down easy, just like Side Out. That freedom of flipping channels, hoping to find something worth watching, a pastime that inevitably and unexpectedly shaped my taste for years to come, isn’t so easy now. Instead of hoping to find something random and new, or just channel-surfing, the world is filled with endless opportunities to watch exactly what you want, whenever you want to watch them.
As a kid, we didn’t even have a cable provider that came with an on-screen guide, so when I talk about channel-surfing, I really, really mean it. I found most of the stuff I loved then and now purely by accident, or by just hanging with HBO all day (remember when there was only one HBO? What a time!) and watching whatever came on next. That was all twenty-five-years ago, and I miss it, I miss the possibility of randomly stumbling across some slice of wonderful cinematic cheese like Side Out, just because we only have twenty channels.
When I go looking for Side Out, Netflix tells me it’s only available on DVD, but Amazon promises that it’s available instantly, for a price.
Side Out turns twenty-six on March 30, 2016. Let’s not screw that one up, too.