Okay, so this radio station flick doesn’t deal in rock ‘n’ roll, but in sports.
But we can cheat this flick into our latest “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” of reviews courtesy of its star: Texas-born country singer, songwriter, and actor Mac Davis. Best known for his huge, ’70s AM radio solo hits “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” “One Hell of a Woman,” and “Burnin’ Thing,” he made his mark in the business by writing Elvis Presley’s late ’60s hits “In the Ghetto” and “A Little Less Conversation.”
As an actor, Davis made his feature film debut — after hosting his own NBC-TV music-comedy variety show The Mac Davis Show from 1974 to 1976 — with one of the better dramas about the dark side of football, North Dallas Forty (1979), holding his own alongside Nick Nolte.
For his ninth film, five of which were TV movies across the “Big Three” networks, Davis followed his work in the unfortunate box office bomb The Sting II (1983) — which, in conjunction with the failure of his second starring role as a divorced private detective in Cheaper To Keep Her (1981), ended his theatrical career — with the modestly budgeted ($1.4 million) sports comedy, Possums.
Sadly, while this lone writing/directing debut by producer and production coordinator J. Max Burnett (family-oriented series for Nickelodeon and The WB) was hailed as a “sports classic” in the tradition of the (superior) sports dramas Rudy and Hoosiers, and well received at the 1998 Seattle and Heartland International Film Festivals, Possums failed to find widespread theatrical distribution outside of the big “football states” of Oklahoma and Texas — where the “Friday Night Lights” rule.
So, Possums was unceremoniously dumped into the home video marketplace and easily found at your local Blockbuster Video.
Will Clark (Davis), an ex-semi-pro player, runs a small town hardware store in Nowata, Oklahoma (a real town, northeast of Tusla, where the film was shot on location), and sidelines at the town’s radio station as “the voice of the Nowata High Possums” — a team that hasn’t won a game in 25 years and hasn’t scored a touchdown in 13 years. And with the giant, Walmart-like retailer Maxi Mart wanting to move into Nowata, which will provide a much-needed boost to the dying, local economy, town mayor Charlie Lawton (B&S favorite Andrew Prine!!) decides to cancel the school’s football program to make way for progress — with Maxi Mart using the football field for their location.
Then, as the next autumn arrives, and the heavy equipment — instead of the local football team — readies to roll onto the field, Will jumps into action.
Distraught at seeing his small town life disappearing, as well as loosing his hardware store and his radio gig, he — to the dismay of his wife (Cynthia Skies; a regular on NBC-TV’s St. Elsewhere and CBS-TV’s JAG; later a producer on Bladerunner 2049) dipping into the family’s dwindling finances — buys airtime on the radio station and begins commentating imaginary football games — games in which the Possums embark on a miracle winning streak and head to the state finals to take on the longstanding champion rivals of Pratville High School.
Then the real Pratville team (led by real life Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, holding his thespian own) lays down a challenge to play a real game. Now, with the town’s new sense of hope and support, Will brings the Possums back onto the field. Can Will and his son (Jay Underwood, the original The Human Torch in Roger Corman’s 1994 The Fantastic Four) train the rag-tag Possums to believe in themselves and repeat the success of Will’s faux-radio broadcasts?
Is it all an implausible cliche? Is it all just another rag-tag misfits on an underdog adventure flick that we’ve seen before, back to Disney’s Might Ducks hockey franchise and into the later, Keanu Reeves one-two sports punch with The Replacements (2000; itself about football) and Hardball (2001; an inner-city Little League team)?
Sure it is.
Look, Possums is not the greatest sports drama ever made — and certainly doesn’t hold up to its promotional copy claims evoking Rudy and Hoosiers — but it’s not the worst, either. The small town characters (one of which is played by the great Dennis Burkley of Mask fame) are fun, and there’s no foul language or violence.
The joy of watching Possums is that isn’t about radio broadcasting — or football, for that matter. It’s a film about one’s love of their home town, the unity of community, and believing in the impossible. And in days like these, surrounded by the hashtagging warriors of the Internet divide, we need to believe in the impossible. And in ourselves. And that’s Possums.
Possums was available as a VOD on the Amazon and Vudu platforms, and as a free with-ads-stream on Tubi, but as result of recent licensing issues, it’s not currently available for online streaming. But the VHS and DVDs abound in the online marketplace and you can keep on eye out for it on the digital platform of the current rights holders at Multicom.tv.