If you could somehow mate the lovely welder from "Flashdance" with the indefatigable young Mr. Balboa from "Rocky," the result would be Dean Youngblood, the handsome hockey prodigy of "Youngblood" (citywide), a movie that could be just as accurately titled "Flashdance on Ice."

Even when we first see Dean (Rob Lowe), skating in slow-motion sync to a pulsing rock score, silhouetted against huge arcs of white light, you get the feeling he's not auditioning for a hockey tryout, but a guest spot on MTV.

Director Peter Markle clearly knows his way around the rink--he's a former hockey player himself and has a nice feel for the raunchy initiation rites of adolescent sports. But the film's occasional glimpses of boyhood camaraderie are buried in an avalanche of thudding synthesizer-rock and coming-of-age cliches that have a lot more in common with box-office stratagems than the thrills--and spills--of athletic endeavor.

A farm boy from just below the Canadian border, Dean leaves home for the wilds of Junior A Hockey, an amateur league where competition is fierce for a spot on a professional club. A shy loner, Dean has his hands full, trying to make friends with a rowdy teammate (Patrick Swayze), please a demanding new coach (Ed Lauter) and court a tomboyish local gal (Cynthia Gibb) who knows more about the rigors of the sport than she first lets on.

The real action begins when Dean faces off against a villainous hockey goon (George Finn), who mauls Dean and his teammates with such ferocity that you'd think he was gunning for an endorsement deal from a false-teeth manufacturer.

However, long before Dean has his bloody showdown with this Darth Vader of the Rink, we've lost any real rooting interest in the outcome. It's no wonder the National Hockey League has refused to have anything to do with the movie. The film not only depicts more sustained violence than the worst NHL slugfest, but proudly displays Dean preparing for his big grudge match by pummeling a punching bag and a getting a few brawling tips from his father. It also has--perhaps to make Lowe's skating look more realistic--more slow-motion sequences than any movie since "The Wild Bunch."

But the film's biggest problem lies with its star. Lowe is a perfectly competent actor, but he's woefully miscast as a gritty, aspiring hockey star--the only team one could possibly imagine him skating with would be an Vanity Fair summer-league squad. (The fact that his teammates, even fellow-actor Swayze, look authentically rough 'n' tumble only makes him look more out of place--couldn't someone have at least blackened out a couple of his teeth?)

There's nothing wrong with Hollywood's obsession with making '80s updates of the Horatio Alger story. But "Youngblood" doesn't come close to capturing the spunk or spirit of youthful dreams. It's just another empty-headed clunker from the Guber-Peters assembly line (who helped make "Vision Quest" as well as "Flashdance"), where imitation seems to have replaced inspiration as a starting point for cinema.


A New United Artists release of a Guber-Peters production. Producers Peter Bart & Patrick Wells. Director Peter Markle. Writer Markle. Camera Mark Irwin. Music William Orbit. Editors Stephen E. Rivkin and Jack Hofstra. Art Director Alicia Keywan. With Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Cynthia Gibb, Ed Lauter, Jim Youngs, Eric Nesterenko, George Finn and Fionnula Flanagan.

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.)

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