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The kooky coming-of-age road-trip saga Fandango has aged pretty well. Combining elements of heartfelt drama and silly slapstick, it's not often clear what Fandango is trying to be: Is it an Animal House-style Easy Rider or is it going for a Midnight Run-ish Big Chill kind of vibe? I think it's going for all those things, and if you're in the right frame of mind, Fandango offers modest pleasures, not least of which is Kevin Costner in a genuinely satisfying comic performance.
Fandango is one of those leisurely films that just wanders from comic situation to poignant character moment and back again. It takes its cue from films such as American Grafitti, stringing a series of humorous moments together and letting its characters undergo profound growth as a simple byproduct of the collective experience. Fandango gives us a group of young men at the cusp of adulthood, about to leave their frat days behind them and unnerved by the very real prospect of the Vietnam war. The film exists in that wild and unsure limbo that many males experience between childhood and manhood, and director Kevin Reynolds captures the essence quite well. Yes, this is a dated film. You can see the mid-'80s like a sheen over every frame, even though it's set more than a decade earlier. The film gives you an era filtered through a very different era. But there's a comfort in that, almost a kind of nostalgia.
It's 1971. Five friends, affectionately dubbed "The Groovers," have just graduated college, and two of them—charismatic but troubled Gardner Barnes (Costner) and wishy-washy Kenneth (Sam Robards)—have been drafted into the military for service in the Vietnam war. Phil Hicks (Judd Nelson, enjoying a banner year that would also see the release of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire) acts as the group's primary foil, generally spoiling the fun and being a loud, petulant ass. Rounding out the Groovers are the large, silent, always-reading Dorman (Chuck Bush) and the dormant Lester (Brian Cesak), who sleeps through the entire film. There's an interesting, subtle subplot involving Kenneth's would-be fiancée, Debbie (Suzy Amis), about whom Gardner still pines in gauzy flashbacks. Even though Debbie appears only briefly in the film, she proves to be the film's primary motivator.
Before Vietnam digs its claws into these young men, the Groovers decide to embark on a road trip across the Texas desert toward the border, where a mysterious prize awaits them. There's a bittersweet haze over the adventures that follow, despite their general silliness. In particular, an extended sequence involving a skydiving misadventure, stretches the limits of believability. And yet, somehow, Fandango retains its aura of imminent loss, a real yearning for a youth that's about to be gone forever.
Kevin Reynolds would go on to direct Costner in a couple of overproduced Hollywood flicks--Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld—as well as the also-overproduced but more effective Count of Monte Cristo, but I would argue that this little, early film is his most pure. Fandango's character-focused script does an apparent magic act by navigating its way, sure-footedly, between farcical and heartfelt, and as a result, the people in the film stay with you after the film ends. And speaking of the ending, it's surprisingly affecting, despite the unlikely return of a minor character from earlier in the film. The last shot encompasses the theme of the entire film quite nicely.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Warner presents Fandango in an adequate anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. I actually remember seeing this film in theaters, and even then, in the days of imprecise projection, I was underwhelmed with Fandango's look. That distinctly 80s look comes through quite accurately in this presentation, which boasts good detail despite an overall drab appearance. There's an ever-present haze of grain and age, but sharpness is okay underneath it all. Colors are muted but accurate, and I saw instances of minor edge halos and ringing. Night scenes suffer from lack of shadow detail.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is nothing to write home about, although it offers a good reproduction of the original soundtrack without going all gimmicky in the surrounds. Dialog is centered rigidly, and I noticed some breakup in the high end, as in the frequent yelling. And there's only minor sound information going to the left and right, lending only the slightest of directional effects. The surrounds are very quiet. The score fares best, coming to life in all channels.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
All you get is Fandango's spirited Theatrical Trailer, presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Fandango is a mid-'80s gem that you might have missed. Now that it's on DVD, give it a look. It's got some early sleeper performances from established actors, and a story that will affect you more than you might think. The DVD presentation is only fair, offering good image and sound but no extras beyond the trailer. Still, worthy of a rental.