Phillip (Nick Nolte) wakes up in his bed in the morning with a bloody nose and severe bruising all over his body. No, Phillip hasn’t been attacked or been in a brawl. Thanks to some flashbacks, we discover that Phillip is a professional footballer who had a big night of getting tackled and crushed by various opponents. We also see that Phillip dropped the ball at one critical moment during the game, which has consequences for him moving forward.
To get over the frustrations of his performance from the night before, he spends the next day drinking heavily with his friends and later attends a loud party. At the party, he meets a young woman named Charlotte (Dayle Haddon). As Phillip and Charlotte exchange basic conversation, something significant occurs, and Phillip’s thinking and attitude towards football takes a new turn moving forward. Now, the player who was previously labelled “ the funny man” and was described as lacking maturity has a new path with hopes of success. However, no matter how serious and determined Phillip becomes, he is bound to still find some trouble along the way.
North Dallas Forty is best described as a comedy with some dramatic moments found near the third act and finale. Throughout, we follow Phillip and his best friend Seth (Mac Davis), who also happens to be a football player. The two enjoy getting up to mischief together often, providing comedy for the entire duration. Their mischief is generally silly and ridiculous, giving most of the film’s strong satirical vibes. I must confess I found Nick Nolte as Phillip lots of fun here. He brings determination to do better personally despite his happiness to fall off the rails occasionally. The dialogue and line deliveries are enjoyable, witty, fast, and slightly charming.
Regarding the plot, I’m surprised there is little here to discuss. Various plot points are introduced, such as Phillip having a secret love affair while trying hard to get off the bench and back into the game professionally, but the film is generally a mixed mash of various conversations and situations in which Phillip and Seth find themselves. Even after the one-hour mark of the film, I was deeply shocked to find how little substance this film offers to its audiences. The most significant value and substance occur in the third and final act. Part of me felt the film would have worked far better as a solid drama instead of heavily focusing on the comedy aspect for most of the film’s duration. However, this may be to your liking if you enjoy silly and randy comedies set in American football from the late seventies.
Overall, if you enjoy a silly and crude satire film that is heavy on all things American football, look no further. As a comedy, sure, there are a few minor laughs to be had, and there’s a pleasing, playful and somewhat charming performance from actor Nick Nolte as the lead. However, I found most of the story in this film to be less exciting than I expected. The plot seems small here, and even subplots need more substance. Even by the halfway mark, I was surprised to see how little the story had progressed. The third act and finale carry the best substance and drama. For the majority, the film relies on its randomness and comedy, but in the end, I felt there wasn’t enough here to leave me cheering.