Billy Clyde Puckett (Burt Reynolds) has an unusual arrangement with his two best friends. He lives in an apartment with Shake Tiller (Kris Kristofferson) and Barbara Jane Bookman (Jill Clayburgh), but the woman in the middle of these two men is actually a pal of theirs since childhood, and there is nothing sexual between them whatsoever: they simply enjoy each other's company. But there's another link between them when Barbara Jane's father (Robert Preston) owns the Miami football team Billy Clyde and Shake play for, and they are doing very well...
Reynolds did of course mix up his serious roles and his lighter ones in the seventies, but as the decade wore on he found his comedies to be more lucrative, yet Semi-Tough was an exception, not a disaster by any means, but not bringing in the megabucks his other movie of 1977, Smokey and the Bandit, did for example. Nevertheless, there have been those who responded to its easygoing charms, and much of that was down to the interaction between its trio of stars, that in spite of the nagging feeling that they were miscast, either because they were too old or hard to believe in those personas.
Kristofferson, for one, played a man much taken with a self-help group that was plainly a spoof on est, a then-fashionable course that was meant to bring you much peace of mind while lightening your bank account. If you could swallow that the usually forthright Kris would ever fall for such activity, particularly in the semi-spoofy manner it was depicted here, then you would probably get along better with the movie than the sceptics, as much of the humour revolved around such character business and how they were caught up in the customs of the day instead of ploughing their own furrow or whatever.
Billy Clyde remains immune to the powers of such fads, which apparently included getting married, because by and by Shake and Barbara Jane spend the night together in a hotel room and are soon after engaged, leaving him feeling like the gooseberry. It's about this time he catches on that now he sees this woman being taken away from his affections is actually the person he loves, but such depth of emotion doesn't quite tally with a tone which gives new meaning to the term "laid back", however gently amusing that might be. So now Billy Clyde endeavours to win her over to his way of thinking, and all without breaking so much as a sweat, either literally or figuratively.
There was such a fine rapport between Reynolds, Clayburgh and Kristofferson that some could have hoped for a better film to frame it in, but if it was not the finest movie director Michael Ritchie ever came up with, it did at least feature the wry sense of humour that marked out some of his better work. The supporting cast were no less well-deployed, with Preston's rich owner getting into the self-help game to comic effect, Brian Dennehy as the team's biggest meathead, Lotte Lenya as a masseuse causing pain, and best of all Bert Convy as their guru, one of his too good to be true slick operators who you just know in a film such as this is guaranteed to get punched in the face before the movie is over. In the meantime, such was the loose approach to the plot that you could have been forgiven for seeing it as a series of sketches on a theme, but when the laughs arrived they were big enough to leave you well disposed towards Semi-Tough. Music by Gene Autry (well, his old records) and Jerry Fielding.
American director, from television, whose films of the 1970s showed an interesting, sardonic take on America. After sour skiing drama Downhill Racer, he had an unhappy experience on the bizarre Prime Cut before a run of acclaimed movies: political satire The Candidate, the excellent Smile, coarse comedy The Bad News Bears, and another sporting comedy Semi-Tough.