NOTE As the University of Texas is my alma mater, I had initially written this with the hopes of putting it out on the Film Threat site to celebrate a Texas Longhorn NCAA Championship. Here we are over a month after their crushing defeat and I find myself unwilling to hold onto it in the unlikely event the Horns make it to the BCS title game…even if their odds are improved now that Chris Simms is gone.
So here you go.
A Tale of Two Kevins
Before I start dog piling on Kevin Costner, we should all take a minute to appreciate the contributions he made to American cinema in the 1980’s. “Bull Durham,” in spite of what any sniveling Hall of Fame executive would have you think, remains in the upper echelon of movies devoted to baseball (I remain unconvinced in the matter of “Field of Dreams”). “No Way Out” features one of modern cinema’s more surprising plot twists, and is a fine Cold War movie to boot. And “The Untouchables,” for all its perceived flaws, is still a great 1930’s period piece.
Okay, enough of that. Flame on.
You don’t need a doctorate in cosmology to know when Costner’s movies started to suck: it was right after “Dances with Wolves” won Best Picture at the Academy Awards™ and snagged Costner the prize for Best Director. As with so many others before him (William Hurt, F. Murray Abraham…hey, of you don’t believe me, check out Phil Hall’s exhaustive column on the subject), Oscar dunked Costner, like a drunken carny, into a huge barrel of suck. Granted, it hasn’t all been bad, but as marginally entertaining as some people might have found “The Bodyguard,” can anyone actually praise movies like “Wyatt Earp” and “The Postman” with a straight face?
Director Kevin Reynolds, on the other hand, didn’t have as far to fall. “Fandango,” the 1985 feature he directed (with an unknown Costner starring) is arguably the high point of a career that includes other Costner vehicles “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and “Waterworld” – and I may be the only person I know who enjoyed the latter more than the train wreck that was “Robin Hood.” Even so, if one were to chart the highs and lows of the two Kevins’ careers, Costner would have a wider deviation, but Reynolds would be further in the negative.
“I like the way it’s shaped.”
“Fandango” is the story of “the Groovers,” five friends (well, four friends and one semi-conscious acquaintance) who, facing the double-barreled shotgun of matrimony and conscription, embark on one last epic quest across the wilds of west Texas to dig up a dear, departed friend.
We’re introduced to our protagonists on the night of their graduation from the University of Texas in 1971. The Groover ringleader is one Gardner Barnes (Costner), whom we first see sitting in a bedroom, throwing darts at a picture of him with his (presumably) ex-girlfriend. His aim affected by guilt, inebriation, or possibly both, he unerringly puts each dart into his own face.
At the party downstairs, the rest of the Groovers come into focus. First there’s Phil Hicks (played by the one and only Judd Nelson), the uptight ROTC captain. He’s the yin to Gardner’s yang, the Mr. Roper to his Jack Tripper, the rest of the Tour de France field to Gardner’s Lance Armstrong. In short, a real pain in the a*s. Nelson made “Fandango” a year or so before “The Breakfast Club” came out. This is to his benefit, as “Fandango” offers us what is perhaps the only glimpse of the actor not riding on a cocaine-fueled Brat Pack high or, alternately, wallowing in a “Suddenly Susan”-induced Xanax depression.
Dorman (Chuck Bush) is probably my favorite Groover. Bush was discovered by Kevin Reynolds going into an Austin convenience store in 1983. Reynolds saw the 6’8” Bush (who weighed in at close to 400 pounds) and knew he had minister-in-training Dorman. Bush has few lines, but they are among the best in the movie (when Phil asks, rhetorically perhaps, what anyone could like about the state of Texas, Dorman sagely responds, “I like the way it’s shaped”).
I should point out that, aside from making a few astute comments, eating, and roping a train, Dorman does nothing but read throughout the Groovers’ excursion, and everything he reads offers silent commentary on what is going on in the film at the time. I’m not going to launch into a detailed analysis, but here’s a list of the works he can be seen perusing throughout the movie:
Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse
Some textbook – my VHS copy doesn’t offer a lot of close-up detail
The Incredible Hulk – not sure which issue
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Lester (Brian Cesak) has just graduated summa cum laude in Accounting. He passes out before the credits even roll, and will remain catatonic until the last fifteen minutes of the film. His constant unconscious presence is “Fandango’s” great running gag.
The Groover everyone at the party is waiting for is Waggener (Sam Robards), who was all set to be married in a couple days before he got his draft notice and abruptly called off the wedding. Gardner, having just received induction papers of his own, senses an opportunity. He collects Waggener, Dorman, a zonked out Lester, and a reluctant Phil, and the five of them hop into Phil’s car to drive off for one last drunken fling.
The story continues in part two of FOOTAGE FETISHES: “FANDANGO”>>>
Discuss Pete Vonder Haar’s “Footage Fetishes” column in Film Threat’s BACK TALK section! Click here>>>