I suppose I'm taking a big chance with my credibility by telling everyone
on my list to go out and see, and perhaps even buy, a kids' movie,
especially when said movie is a beloved piece of my childhood which I
almost certainly can't deal with impartially. Nevertheless, over two
decades after I first saw "Gus," I still love it.
When Hank Cooper (Edward Asner), the financially strapped owner of the
completely inept California Atoms football team, learns about Gus, a mule
who can accurately kick soccer balls (and therefore, presumably,
footballs) 100 yards, he sees a halftime show that might draw crowds. This
also presents an opportunity for Andy Petrovic (Gary Grimes), Gus' young
owner, who can't escape from the shadow of his illustrious brother, a
Yugoslavian soccer hero. However, when Cooper makes a bet (his last resort
to refinance the team) that he can turn the perennial losers into Super
Bowl material, he uses a technicality in NFL rules to send the mule in to
kick field goals.
The plot of "Gus" isn't just thin, it's emaciated. I sincerely doubt
that the NFL's official rules would permit a mule to play as a kicker, for
instance. That's really part of the point; the whole movie is silliness,
so stretching things here isn't so bad. While wisecracks do abound, most
of the comedy is slapstick. "Gus" has as many football bloopers in its
first ten minutes as most expansion teams have in their premier season. As
if the players weren't bad enough, the cheerleaders are clumsy making for
even more pratfalls. The attempts to kidnap the mule or otherwise sabotage
his efforts always produce hilarious results. The final mule-napping
causes a chase through a supermarket that's easily one of the funniest
scenes in any movie I've seen.
Most of the performances are decent. The real highlights are Tom Bosley
and Tim Conway, who play the villains Spinner and Crankcase; they manage
to avoid being too scary for kids, but still remain menacing. Asner is
also pretty good as the wisecracking team owner. Another smaller part
worthy of mention is Bob Crane as the overblown sportscaster Pepper.
Whether the animal training counts as a performance or special effects,
the mule does a wonderful job as well; kicking, fainting, running, and
nodding on cue, "Gus" takes an animal performance about as far as a film
can without animation and/or voiceovers.
"Gus" also remains in safe territory for children. There is no graphic
violence, no real nudity (the locker room scene is filmed at chest level),
and no strong language (I'm not sure there's even anything as strong as
"damn"). Coming from Disney before Disney was controversial, it shouldn't
be surprising that we have a movie that the "G" rating was meant for.
On the downside, however, some aspects of the film such as
cinematography and sound are adequate, but not much more. Theme can also
be included on this list; "Gus" is shallow. Psychologically, there's
nothing deeper than sibling rivalry and puppy love. If you're looking for
lofty philosophical ideas, or even an accurate Super Bowl prediction,
you'd be looking at the wrong movie. Still, finding the silver lining on
this cloud, at least kids won't miss anything.
"Gus" is good for an hour and a half worth of laughs. Children will
almost certainly love "Gus" (even if they don't understand
football--they'll know, for instance, that you're not supposed hand the
ball off to the referees). I also suspect that even adults who didn't grow
up with it will enjoy "Gus." I still have a soft spot for him.