Some cult classics, if not most, have an inauspicious beginning.

I’m not a has-been, I’m a never-was. I aspire to be a has-been.

That quote–if you’re looking for connections whereby one scene transitions into the next to form a single, cohesive story–sums up what you could call the plot of Robin Williams’ 1986 football flick, The Best of Times. But better to ignore the plot, because it’s not a good one. How about the worst line of the movie? “You better watch out, Doctor Death, because I’m pretty damn fast for a Caucasian.” That’s your hero, Jack Dundee (Robin Williams) a guy who can’t forget that he dropped a perfectly thrown football in the final seconds of a football game against his high school arch rival. Thirteen years later, Jack’s unable to forgive himself. So, after seeking the advice of a hooker, he decides to do something about it: he coerces Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell), the quarterback of that fateful game, into helping him replay the game. Together, they revitalize their town and their marriages in preparation for the rematch.

best of timesIt’s funny: there really isn’t a best of times in Best of Times-in the plot or on the screen. But if I’m severe in critiquing the movie, it’s to underline this point: You have to see it for Robin Williams. It’s his one and only sports movie, complete with montages of training and everything. It’s a special kind of experience, one that makes you wish he had been in more.

Make no mistake–The Best of Times is not a good movie. Distractions try to make you think it is–Kurt Russell’s Kenny-Powers-inspired mop, a young Kirk Cameron of Growing Pains-age as Hightower’s son, and above-average football scenes. But it’s a clear step down for Williams, in that it’ll never be revered in the way some of his movies are. The script doesn’t have speeches as inspiring as Dead Poets Society, nor any as charming as Aladdin, or as earnest as Mrs. Doubtfire, or as penetrating as Good Will Hunting, but Williams shines all the same. He forces feeling into a stale script, making you care about the cloud hanging over Dundee. He’s funny too, even when you get the feeling that the lines weren’t written to be. And at the end, when he and Russell share the requisite sports movie heart-to-heart before the final drive, you’ve never seen his eyes so blue and adamant. In that moment, a moment that could very easily be overlooked with a lesser actor, Williams makes you believe Dundee’s plight. His sorrow. His guilt.

What’s supposed to be a budget sports movie, a cheap retread of the underdog story, Williams makes you care about. Makes you keep watching. He had that ability, even in his not-so great movies. Williams may be most remembered for causing laughs, but he also had a talent for showing his heart – what’s more, he knew when not to. Only after making the audience wait and wait would he offer a glimpse. I’ll miss him for Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, and all the other classics. But I’ll miss him for what he did in The Best of Times, too.