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‘Rudy’ (PG)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 15, 1993

Get ready for this combination: a Win-One-for-the-Gipper fable mixed with "Flashdance." And throw in "The Wizard of Oz," while we're on the subject. In "Rudy," burly Midwest steelworker Sean Astin dreams of playing football for the Fighting Irish, even though he doesn't have the grades.

In real life, you and I would be heading straight back to the mill, dreams gradually dimming over the years. But in a movie like this (even though it's based on the true story of Rudy Ruettiger), college admission is a minor problem. The devil himself can't stop Astin because he wants this thing so bad.

There's no place like Notre Dame, there's no place like Notre Dame.

Despite its familiar passel of sports-fantasy elements, which we've seen in everything from "Hoosiers" (written by the same people) to "Field of Dreams," there's something very watchable about "Rudy." The main reason is Astin's convincing palooka nobility. A short bundle of slow-on-the-uptake niceness, he dream-idles his way through high school in the 1960s, with visions of playing for the greatest college team of all time.

Another notable difference between "Rudy" and those other fairy tales is the humble horizon Astin sets for himself. He's not that good. He doesn't display any particular grace at the game. But this is the team he's watched on the TV all these years with his Catholic, working-class family. He just wants to be there on the bench for one play, just to say he did it, just to prove his cynical folks wrong.

Astin lowers his head and charges at this dream, butting past a slew of mythical helpers and hinderers. Most of the hindrance comes from his hometown and family. Notre Dame, says his father, Ned Beatty, is "for rich kids, smart kids. Not us." Most of the help comes from allegorical strangers. When Astin drops everything in Joliet, Ill., and shows up at the Notre Dame university gate, he asks the guard who he can talk to about joining.

"You could always talk to a priest," says the guard. "Maybe that's what you need, son."

Astin does talk to a man o' the cloth: kindly, Capraesque Robert Prosky, who enrolls him in parochial school to play academic catch-up. Astin also meets up with Notre Dame stadium groundskeeper Charles S. Dutton, who gives the eager lad a field-maintenance job.

Meanwhile, Astin works up a daily sweat in the library -- finding out in the process he's mildly dyslexic. But it's just a matter of bullheaded time before . . . you know.

If these kinds of films keep you on edge, surprised and charmed, you've already heard enough. Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo know all the combinations. They milk this thing very well. And Astin gives these familiar doings the charm they need, as he pushes towards a virtually impossible goal. His most frequent question (to priest Prosky) is, "Have I done all I can?" The truth is, he has. That's the positive difference for "Rudy."

Copyright The Washington Post

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