The Best of Times does not describe the time you will have watching this movie. It borrows its name from the iconic first line of Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities. The book examined the dichotomy of the French aristocracy and French peasantry just prior to the French revolution. The first lines of the book read:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…
It continues with further comparisons of how good and bad things were at that time for the French classes.
This Robin Williams-led movie attempts to play off of the dualism expressed in Dickens’ classic by pitting the always-finishing-in-second-place Taft (who represent the peasantry) against the always-better-than-Taft Bakersfield (the aristocracy). The movie starts with an unnecessarily overt pictorama of historical photos showing instance after instance of Bakersfield superiority.
Robin Williams plays Jack Dundee, who serves as both protagonist and simultaneous movie jester. The turning point in his pitiful life occurrs during high school when he dropped the would-be winning touchdown catch in the annual beatdown by Bakersfield. Kurt Russell plays Reno Hightower, the quarterback of the Taft Rockets who threw the pass that Jack Dundee drops. Russell’s life also did not quite turn out as he had hoped either as he now runs a local auto body shop. His dreams of football stardom were squashed when Dundee dropped the pass.
Dundee meanwhile suffers through feelings of inadequacy with his wife and working at the bank of his Bakersfield-alumnus-father-in-law. His father-in-law constantly ribs Dundee about the dropped ball to the point where Dundee comes up with the brilliant idea of replaying the game.
He figures that even though he cannot recapture the not-quite glory of his youth, maybe he can replay the game, catch the big pass, and feel like a winner instead of the loser he has felt like his entire life to that point. Mixed within the film is a subplot of marital strife that both Dundee and Hightower suffer. Apparently Dundee feels that playing the game will also make him feel like a winner in the bedroom too (this was before Viagra, after all).
When he initially pitches the idea for the game, he is rebuffed by the locals. He eventually rouses the troops by destroying the local lodge with Bakersfield-themed sabotage. Inexplicably, this is enough to convince a bunch of middle-aged men that repalying a high school football game is a actually a good idea.
In a twist bigger than the end of The Sixth Sense, they do eventually replay the game. Truth be told, the football scenes are probably the best part of the movie. The movie ends predictably with Dundee catching the final pass and winning the big game. Dundee and Hightower walk off the field with their ladies in tow, and all is right in the world.
You could almost play the Tale of Two Cities lines over the closing credits: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” I think that the far, far better thing would have been to not make this movie.