Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Tonight's Movie: American Flyers (1985) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

I've mentioned here before that Kevin Costner is my favorite actor of the last few decades. I was thus happy when the Warner Archive recently released two 1985 Costner films I'd never seen, AMERICAN FLYERS (1985) and FANDANGO (1985).

I'll be reviewing both, and I decided to start with AMERICAN FLYERS, a cycling movie written by Steve Tesich, who also wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for the cycling movie BREAKING AWAY (1979).

AMERICAN FYERS was directed by John Badham; I saw his film WARGAMES (1983) on first release.

Before watching it I didn't look closely at the AMERICAN FLYERS plot description, assuming it was sort of a "coming of age" bicycling movie. It is, but it also goes to much darker places than I was expecting.

Costner plays Dr. Marcus Sommers, a sports physician who in recent years has been largely absent from the lives of his mother (Janice Rule) and younger brother David (David Marshall Grant).

Marcus resents the way his mother withdrew from his father when he was terminally ill, while David is more understanding of human frailty. David, despite being quite bright, has issues of his own; he hasn't applied himself to school or established a career and is living life as a bit of a lazy goof.

Marcus shows up at the family home in St. Louis out of the blue and almost immediately takes David back with him to Wisconsin. Although they never really discuss the purpose, Marcus gives David a series of medical tests. It transpires that each of them could have a genetic predisposition towards the same inoperable brain aneurysm which killed their father.

Tests done, the brothers then decide to compete in the "Hell of the West" bicycle race in Colorado, and they set off together, accompanied by Marcus's live-in girlfriend Sarah (Rae Dawn Chong).

Along the way, physical conditions are made clear, family relationships are rebuilt, and David is put on the path toward mature adulthood.

I can't say I exactly liked the movie, given the plotline, but it was a fairly interesting 113 minutes, and I was glad to check off another title in Costner's filmography. The movie has exciting racing scenes, and it tries to deal with the downer subject matter in as positive a way as possible, but there are issues with Tesich's screenplay; it's too "elliptical," leaving holes in our understanding of the characters and their actions which aren't satisfactorily filled in. We're ultimately left inferring quite a bit of the story, which didn't work in the film's favor.

In terms of Costner's career, the releases of FANDANGO and AMERICAN FLYERS came the same year as his breakout role as Scott Glenn's kid brother in SILVERADO (1985). In 1987 he starred back to back in THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) and NO WAY OUT (1987), immediately followed by BULL DURHAM (1988) and FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), and the rest is movie history.

Costner's Marcus is so dour it's almost hard to believe it's the same actor who played the goofy cowboy in SILVERADO that year, and it did give me a deeper appreciation of Costner's talent. Here he's saddled with an unfortunate mustache which ages the 30-year-old actor greatly -- I assume deliberately, in order to make his role as a doctor more believable.

We very rarely get to see what really makes Marcus tick; a brief sunrise scene with Sarah is as close as we get to understanding his feelings more intimately. In the end we're left with a character who is sympathetic but who also remains a bit of an enigma, which is an issue with the script, not the actor.

Grant's not very appealing, but I appreciated his character arc and growth. Among the cast I most enjoyed Chong as Marcus's supportive girlfriend and Alexandra Paul as a young woman who hooks up with David on the road and ultimately shows herself to have sensitivity beneath her dingbat exterior.

John Amos also has a nice smaller role as Marcus's colleague. Fun story: Amos was a friend of one of my high school teachers and came and gave a talk to our class, a couple of years after he starred in ROOTS (1977).

The movie was nicely shot by Donald Peterman, reflected well by the Warner Archive Blu-ray widescreen print. The lone extra is the trailer.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger DKoren said...

This is one of Costner's I haven't seen yet. I'm not sure I've ever read the plot either, and so this review's description caught me by surprise. Interesting! I haven't seen Fandango either, so looking forward to hearing what that one is like.

9:20 PM  

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