On the heels of Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Weird Science, Anthony Michael Hall was geek cool before Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory knew what pocket protectors were. Anthony Michael Hall was the right actor at the right time, and his performances in those three films would cement him forever as an 80s icon.
The only problem was that Weird Science came out in 1985. Hall was 17 years old and he knew he wanted to have a long career ahead of him. In fact, he said as much when I heard him interviewed at a local film festival that, ironically, Pirates of Silicon Valley was screened at. So, as great as being the star of three John Hughes films probably was, Hall knew that he need to show some range.
Add to this that St. Elmo’s Fire also came out in 1985 the pressure for Hall to spread his acting wings probably increased. This film about college friends was foreshadowing everything that Hall and the Bratpack were probably thinking. The fact that it starred Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, and Ally Sheedy (three of Hall’s Alums from The Breakfast Club), probably made the Out of Bounds screenplay that much more enticing. This was an action film. The role was a 180 degree turn from the heartfelt comedies audiences had seen Hall do. Out of Bounds turned into a young man’s Clint Eastwood film directed by Richard Tuggle. He had even directed Eastwood in Tightrope (a film Tuggle also wrote) two years earlier.
Out of Bounds is different in every way from what one might expect from an Anthony Michael Hall vehicle in the 1980s. Hall plays the character of Daryl Cage. Having a lived on a farm his whole life, Daryl’s world gets rocked when his parents send him to live with his brother in Los Angeles. There is a baggage mix-up when Daryl gets off the plane and he ends up picking a bag filled with drugs. As you can guess, the drug dealer (Jeff Kober) wants his stuff back. This leads to Daryl’s brother and his girlfriend being killed. Daryl finds their bodies and soon realizes that he’s the prime suspect in the police investigation. Now, Daryl has to prove his innocence all within the confines of a city that plays by its own rules. Along the way he is aided by Dizz (80s icon herself, Jenny Wright) who helps him navigate the city, and takes down Kober’s ruthless drug lord in a game of cat and mouse.
Alright, as you can guess this isn’t The Breakfast Club. And in 1986, with a box office gross of $5 million dollars, this isn’t what people wanted from Anthony Michael Hall either. However, Out of Bounds represents something far greater than a bomb at the box office. It represents a turning point, not only for Hall, but for the core of Hall’s audience.
Out of Bounds was a loss of innocence for a generation.
At first Out of Bounds was seen to kill Hall’s career. History has proven that not to be the case. What it was was a sea change for his career, but it also represented a loss of innocence. This wasn’t just for Hall or his career, this was for all us viewers born between 1965-1975. Anthony Michael Hall literally evolved in front of our very eyes. In Sixteen Candles, he was the fast talking dweeb we could all relate to. The uncool person who didn’t want to be cool, so much as he wanted to believe he was cool. In The Breakfast Club he was the smart guy with a dark side, who couldn’t even get the right sort of gun to kill himself. And, in Weird Science, he was a genius creator who was also quirky, weird, funny, and ultimately very lovable.
Then Out of Bounds happened and it seemed like he was a different person. His fun and freewheeling career suddenly became a very serious thing. As Daryl Cage, Hall was a character who was in a life and death situation. There were no jokes. He wasn’t cracking-wise. Hall was supposed to be scared (more on that later), but he took on a macho swagger as he made moves against around Los Angeles trying to clear his name. This was a cinematic loss of innocence because Hall’s career would never be the same after this. There was no going back to the characters we had spent some of our most formative years with. At the same time, a generation of movie-goers was growing up with Hall. Like it or not, us moviegoers had to grow up as well. Our lives were changing. There was no going back for us either. In many ways, that cast a shadow of sorts on Out of Bounds. It’s an easy film not to like because to watch it we have to accept that we’re growing older. In hindsight, for awhile, this might’ve made the idea of watching Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club almost bittersweet.
Out of Bounds was in trouble from the greenlight stage.
It is unclear what screenplay Anthony Michael Hall read when he agreed to be in Out of Bounds. I read an interview with Richard Tuggle after the film had been released. He said that the biggest problem was that the Daryl Cage character, as a fish out of water in Los Angeles, should’ve been “scared.” According to Tuggle, Hall fought against this, instead, choosing to play the character like Clint Eastwood. As mentioned above, Tuggle had worked very closely with Eastwood so he was probably well versed in what he did and didn’t want. Perhaps the problem with Out of Bounds was the screenplay? Or, maybe this just wasn’t the right project for Anthony Michael Hall to try and stretch with. The problem at this point comes down to art vs. commerce. On the commerce side, in 1985, Anthony Michael Hall was one of the biggest actors in the world. His name could’ve greenlit any picture. Just because it could’ve doesn’t necessarily mean that it should’ve, and, unfortunately, that could’ve played a role in why Hall was even involved in this project. On the art side, Hall knows that as an actor he only has a limited time to play the dopey high school kid. If he had continued in this mold Hall could very well have ended up as the 1980s equivalent of Tara Reid. Hall would go on to do Johnny Be Good which wouldn’t do much for his career. So he quickly realized, rather than force himself into starring roles, he was going to take co-starring roles in really good movies. This is why we see him in Edward Scissorhands, The Pirates of Silicon Valley, Happy Accidents, The Dark Knight and TV series like The Dead Zone. Hall figured out that playing the same role was going to kill his career. Many born from 1965 to 1975 had to grow-up and change who we were as well. It’s just a natural consequence of aging. Unlike Hall, our evolution wasn’t done under the microscopic lens of Hollywood.
Out of Bounds featured a soundtrack that is still cutting edge.
With a soundtrack that featured Siouxsie & The Banshees, Sammy Hagar, The Cult, Stewart Copeland & Adam Ant, Night Ranger, and Lords of the New Church, Out of Bounds on a sonic level, was ahead of it’s time. This soundtrack was “prog rock” before anybody knew what the term was. However, if you listened to Tangerine Dream (and if you saw a movie in the 1980s it was kind of hard not to) then you were at least aware of it. Sadly, The Smiths song “How Soon is Now” was featured in the film but not included in the soundtrack. Had it been it might’ve made the soundtrack even more legendar. Other tidbits that contribute to the epic nature of this soundtrack are the fact that Bon Jovi wrote a song titled “Out of Bounds.” It was supposed to be in the movie but never made the cut. Also, the song “Nona”, featured on a reissue of Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” album had initially been intended for “Out of Bounds,” but alas it was not used. In many ways Out of Bounds is a forgotten film. The soundtrack, even while featuring all those unique and iconic artists, never broke big in the way that the Repo Man soundtrack did. And, as in the case of Repo Man, the solidness of the Out of Bounds soundtrack wasn’t enough to make the film new again in people’s eyes. In many ways this added to the coolness of it. Out of Bounds as a movie may not be the greatest piece of cinema you’re ever going to see. However, it’s soundtrack separates it and it probably accounts, to a large degree, for why Out of Bounds occupies in special place in the hearts of those who remember it.
No career trajectory is full proof. Let’s be honest, Anthony Michael Hall has never been Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio. Did he ever want to be, though? With a resume that includes over 90 films playing such diverse roles as Johnny Smith on The Dead Zone, Bill Gates in Pirates of Silicon Valley (which, incidentally, is the best narrative film on the stories of Apple and Microsoft, sorry Ashton Kutcher and Michael Fassbender), and Greg Pulver in War Machine, just to name a few. Hall had varying sized roles in all these films, yet, none of that shows in the work he did. He truly became the parts he was playing.
As much as it hurts to grow up, many in my generation owe Anthony Michael Hall a debt of gratitude. In having him as a our big screen surrogate to get through our awkward middle and high school years, we had a champion like no other. A face to put on our pain, growth, and, hopefully, ultimate triumph. With years of hindsight behind us now, we are able to accept his cinematic growth, and our necessary loss of innocence as something that was poetic and not just jarring, sad and overwhelming.