Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fandango (1985)

by Josh "Ripcord" Converse

Fandango is an '80s movie about the '70s. It centers around the draft, Vietnam, and a group of college drinking buddies known as "The Groovers," out for one last fling on the road. Did I mention it’s an '80s movie? Did I really need to?

This flick marks the first in a series of collaborations between director Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner, who would go on to dazzle us with Waterworld, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and the upcoming Learning Italian. I know, I know. Scorsese and DeNiro, it ain’t. Hell, it ain’t even Scorsese and DiCaprio. It is, however, a movie about a bunch of dudes getting shithammered, so cover it we must.

Starts out at a party of the college variety. Graduation night. We are introduced to perennial screw-up Gardner Barnes, the ringleader, played by the ever-affable Costner. We are also introduced to the first in a long series of horrible accents perpetrated upon the ticket-buying public lo these many years by the aforementioned Kevin, this the precursor to the one he used eight years later in A Perfect World, and not all that different from the one he used just before that in JFK, and oddly enough, just a lilt off the one he used as Robin Hood. It also marks the debut of what I like to call Costner’s signature "dammit of no dammit" move, in which he lets his mouth hang open and sharply bobs his head as one would when saying "dammit," but he doesn’t actually say anything. Ever catch that? It’s his approximation of outrage and he’s used it in everything he’s ever done, oil spill clean-ups included.

Judd Nelson does well as the weenie Phil Hicks, an ROTC geek and fortunate son whom nobody in the crew really respects. Consider it a precursor to the weenie he went on to play in St. Elmo’s Fire. Also at the party, comically fat and quiet guy Dorman, played by Chuck Bush, and skinny, quieter guy Lester Griffin, who will go on to spend virtually the entire film unconscious and stuffed in the back window of the car, played by Brian Cesak.

Rounding out the Groovers is Kenneth Waggener (Sam Robards), who shows up late to the party sporting a hang-dog. Looks like Ken, freshly graduated, has been nailed by Uncle Sam, and is due to report for boot camp Monday morning. As a result, Ken has decided to break off his engagement.

This is all music to Gardner’s ears who, having fallen short on his own bid to graduate, has also been drafted, is also expected at boot camp on Monday morning. Solution to all our ills? Howsabout one last alcohol-fueled run for the border, in which we grasp for the glory days, dig up an old, buried secret, and learn the proper way to deploy a reserve parachute? Takers? C’mon, then. The fat guy can drive.

The film succeeds on a lot of levels. It’s a rowdy good time, filled with all the requisite hijinks that one would expect from a road comedy of this era. Performances are solid all around, with plenty of good-hearted, good ol’ boy grab-assing to keep you in the giggles. The scene in which Judd Nelson is goaded into taking skydiving lessons is the indisputable comic high point, due largely to a standout turn by Marvin J. McIntyre as freaked-out pilot and parachuting instructor Truman Sparks.

Kevin Reynolds, working under the auspices of Amblin Entertainment, lays on a tasteful but thick dose of Spielbergian magic hour sappiness. The Groovers’ bottle rocket fight in the middle of a darkened graveyard, foreshadowing their coming trials and tribulations on the field of battle in Vietnam, is particularly heavy-handed, but not without aesthetic grace. Most of the film’s other gags are played for laughs, so muscle through. Spoiler Alert: As the film draws to a close, expect to be strong-armed into a poignant, reflective catharsis, as everybody simultaneously, instantaneously grows up.

The movie is available now on the Netflix Instant Queue and, likely, the discount bins at your neighborhood Marshall’s, and is a good time to be had by most. Feel free to toss a few back before you press play.


  1. Excellent movie choice. I have always loved this movie that nobody talks about. Costner's line "No, no. It felt like a rattler." is used everytime I find a snake in the yard. Also, the flight instructor sitting on the ground eating his oatmeal is priceless. That is the guy who usually flies our planes. Fun movie. One of only two Costner movies I like. Silverado is the second.

  2. I'm intrigued. Can't miss any film with a bottle rocket fight. Good one, Converse.

  3. Angels. ANNNNNGELS!