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Sometimes, we all need a little sinful indulgence. Ben and Jerry have made millions off this need, so has Sara Lee. View the movie American Flyers as your sinful indulgence. It isn't going to change the world and doesn't make any great social commentary. It is just pure 80's cliché. It includes a dysfunctional family, youthful rebellion, a synthesizer driven rock and roll soundtrack full of inspirational tunes, even a subplot involving the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics and one athlete's bitterness over not getting his chance at Olympic glory. It even has Kevin Costner with a cheesy 80's mustache! It is an enjoyable movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.
The movie stars David Grant as bicyclist David Sommers. After the tragic death of his father, David has lost focus, done poorly in school and watched his family disintegrate. His own mortality looms largely in his thoughts because his father died from a cerebral aneurysm, a weak blood vessel in the brain that can't be fixed and is hereditary.
His father's death also strained the relationship between his mother (Janice Rule) and brother, Marcus (Kevin Costner). Marcus is a doctor who resents his mother's inability to face reality and comfort his father during the final days. Marcus also wants his brother to join him in Madison to get an education, get away from his mother and pursue his athletic ability. He secretly worries that his brother may develop a similar cerebral aneurysm, and wants to examine him with the school's cutting edge equipment.
We soon learn that Marcus also has a past. He was a champion bicyclist, serving as an alternate for the 1980 Olympic team. However, he is disappointed with his performance. Marcus feels he always gave up and wasn't driven enough. He regrets what could have had a fantastic career. To make up for it, he is traveling to Colorado for a prestigious bike race. After the race, Marcus plans on retiring from competition. Who will win the big race? Thanks to a nice plot twist, not exactly who you might think.
I have always been a big fan of Kevin Costner. In most roles (not Waterworld or The Postman), he is a natural, almost effortless actor, much like Spencer Tracy. He always comes across as a regular guy trying to do what's right for himself, his family or his friends. This has helped Costner survive suicidal career choices and star in some of the best movies of the last twenty years.
In American Flyers, Costner's character is trying to instill pride in his brother and push him to succeed. It's not an overbearing nagging, but a loving push to be all you can be. Costner portrays a tough, but lovable older brother. It's a hard balancing act, but he is very good at it.
Most of the other performances are pretty stereotyped. However, two other actors stand out, Rae Dawn Chong as Marcus' girlfriend and John Amos as Dennis. Chong portrays a tough as nails, loving girlfriend who defends her man and pushes him when he is wrong. Amos is fantastic as the older best friend trying to give good advice to a headstrong young man. I have always liked Amos since he was on television's Good Times, and wish he would get more work. Watch for three actors who are well known now, but were just getting started then; Jennifer Grey of Dirty Dancing, comedian Robert Townsend and Alexanda Paul of Baywatch.
Part of me wishes I had seen the movie on the big screen. American Flyers was filmed on location at the Coors International Bicycle Classic and incorporates riders and footage from an actual race. There is some great camera work of the bicyclists zooming down mountains and making hairpin curves. It is dramatic on my television screen, but must have been amazing in the theater.
American Flyers was the last movie written by Steve Tesich, who passed away in 1996. He was a Yugoslavian immigrant who won the Oscar for screenwriting with his very first screenplay, 1979's very similar biking movie Breaking Away. Tesich also wrote the screenplay for The World According to Garp. In his final years, he was a bitter man. He felt American films and television were devoid of intelligence and railed about how America handled the atrocities occurring in Yugoslavia. Maybe he was still smarting from the anemic $1.4 Million American Flyers pulled in.
Director John Badham made it in Hollywood the hard way. He worked as a mail room clerk for Universal, then tour guide and casting director. He is well known for 1983's WarGames and 1987's Stakeout, but will always be famous for directing the disco epic, Saturday Night Fever (one of my favorite movies of all time). In many ways, you can make him responsible for the formula that was duplicated many times since; rebellious young man, dysfunctional family, chasing your big dreams, and use of the soundtrack as major element of the movie and source of further profits for the studio. He is still active in Hollywood.
As I mentioned, the movie is unabashedly cliché, right up to the dramatic big race, but that's OK. As a child of the eighties, I enjoyed the trip down memory lane.
American Flyers: B+
Director: John Badham
Writer: Steve Tesich
Kevin Costner .. Marcus
David Grant . .. David
Rae Dawn Chong . Sarah
Alexandra Paul . Rebecca
Janice Rule ... Mrs. Sommers
John Amos ... Dennis
Luca Bercovich Cannibal
Robert Townsend . Jerome
Jennifer Grey Leslie
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