Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dazed and Confused? Try Kicking and Screaming :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Kevin Reynold's Fandango (1985)


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"We gotta go dig up Dom."
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Road trip! Ah, the call of the wild. Road trip! Hell yeah! A clarion call to dubious -- if not completely legal, action. Like the one I partook in back in 1998, when I, Naked Bill, and Endless Dave headed to Kansas City for three interleague baseball games between the Chicago Cubs and the Royals. If memory serves, it was about 150 degrees that whole weekend with matching humidity; and Endless Dave's death-van had no air-conditioner. Then, on top of the oppressive heat, about ten miles outside of Abilene, we blew a tire. Slapping on the spare we continued on, but unbeknownst to us, however, was the fact that the blowout had bent the tailpipe and caused it to start pumping exhaust fumes through a hole in the floor of the back of the cargo van -- he typed ominously ...

From L to R: The Van of Death, Endless Dave, the Geographical
Centerof the U.S., and Yours Truly basking in the 100+ heat.

Pressing on to K.C. in that four-wheeled blast furnace, everyone's eyes soon started to burn; and a few of us, our brains starved of oxygen, started tripping out. Now, I was stuck in the back and my sense of smell is practically non-existent, and with the windows open, we just chalked it up to a side-effect of the extreme heat. Thank Harry Caray for that Stuckey's where we stopped and aired out or we'd all probably be dead. We suffered through the whole weekend like that as we didn't discover the cause of our psychedelics until about halfway home, when someone else got stuck in the back and finally smelled the fumes.

From L to R: Yours Truly, Endless Dave and Naked Bill.

We've had better, and less life-threatening road trips: sneaking into the Scottsbluff Zoo's campground to spend the night, an off-off-road encounter with the Lunar Crater, and the annual trips to B-Fest offer too many a tale to tell here -- and we're here to talk about a film, anyways, right? Right. And as wild as my gang's adventures ever got, they failed to match the final epic blowout of the Groovers; a fictional group of foolhardy friends in Kevin Reynold's ultimate road trip movie, Fandango.


Set in the summer of 1971, five University of Texas students, facing the draft and uncertain futures, decide to have one final blowout before joining the rat-race. Gardener (Costner), the leader of the Groovers, seems to be constantly on the move so he won't have time to think about the girl that he let get away. Failing to meet academic standards, he has received his draft notice. Waggener (Robards) was to marry the girl Gardener let get away, but he, too, has received his draft notice and has called the wedding off. Phillip Hicks (Nelson) is in the ROTC and is pretty gung-ho about the war in Vietnam. Amid the chaos that follows, he tries and fails to be the voice of reason and maturity but comes off as a whiny schmuck. The others aren't listening anyway and are rounded out by Dorman (Bush), the gentle giant who is always full of surprises, and Lester (Cesak), an honor student who spends the entire movie in a drunken coma.


Piling into Phillip's Cadillac, the group blazes across the backwater of southern Texas, toward Mexico, leaving behind a trail of destruction and empty Lone Star beer bottles. Along the way, we easily deduce that the Groovers made a similar trip when they were freshman, and, after a brief respite, Gardener announces that it's time to head to the border and dig up Dom.


Who or what Dom is will remain a mystery for awhile, but ignoring Phillip's protests, the group mounts up and heads for the burial site and their old, carnal stomping ground at Chata Ortegas for some margaritas and a chance to see the Donkey Lady again. There are a few hilarious detours along the way. The best is a pit-stop at the Pecos Parachute School where Phillip must proves his manhood by surviving a jump. Run by Truman Sparks (Marvin McIntyre), a Vietnam vet who is, shall we say, living better through chemistry, things go from bad to worse with a mix-up in the laundry, leaving those left on the ground to desperately try and communicate with the radioless plane that Phillip's parachute is nothing but a bunch of dirty socks.


Does Philip survive? Do they find Dom? Will Waggener, wracked with regret, change his mind and get married after all? Will Gardener skip off to Mexico and dodge the draft? And will Lester ever wake up? Who am I to spoil the ending?


Fandango began as a student film project for writer and director Kevin Reynolds. Originally called Proof, somehow, Steven Spielberg saw it, liked it, and helped finance its expansion into a feature length film. And as you watch the end results, part of it will make you laugh -- trying to water-ski the Caddy behind a train comes to mind, and I really like the way Dorman carries the comatose Lester everywhere so he won't miss anything. But there's also a heavy sense of melancholy as there are just as many scenes of remorse and regret balancing out the insanity. A visit to the set of Giant finds only a hollowed out structure; they find Ortega's burnt to the ground; and no matter how hard they try they just can't seem to recapture the old thunder. And for once Phillip's words ring true:

"You're only 18 once, like you're only a virgin once."

And in the end, despite getting Waggener hitched, facing the inevitable, and without much fanfare, the group quietly breaks up and spreads to the four winds.


Admittedly, this movie will have a bigger effect on you if you have a solid group of friends that you can easily identify with as characters in the film. There is a real camaraderie among the Groovers; all of them integral, sometimes irritating, spiteful and hateful, but just like any family, the love is still there. And I do have a similar group of friends, and despite pushing the big 4-0, I'm always a "can-do" for any road trip that tries to recapture a little thunder and "celebrate the privileges of youth" before "our bodies are sacrificed to the road of life."


Fandango (1985) Amblin Entertainment :: Warner Bros. Pictures / EP: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall / P: Tim Zinnemann / AP: Pat Kehoe, Barrie M. Osborne / D: Kevin Reynolds / W: Kevin Reynolds / C: Thomas Del Ruth / E: Arthur Schmidt, Stephen Semel / M: Alan Silvestri / S: Kevin Costner, Judd Nelson, Sam Robards, Chuck Bush, Brian Cesak, Marvin J. McIntyre, Glenne Headly, Suzi Amis

1 comment:

fandangogroovers said...

Great review. I travelled all the way from England to do an American roadtrip last year that included a visit to the Fandango locations with Chuck Bush who played Dorman in the film. You can read about it here:
http://fandangogroovers.wordpress.com/2009/02/25/fandangogroovers/
I even named my blog after the movie!

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