Warner Bros. // 1985 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // February 28th, 2005
Innocent critters squashed on the highway of life.
I always thought a fandango was some sort of Spanish dance. Turns out it is, but Fandango's trailer informs us that it's also tomfoolery, a foolish act. You'll find an abundance of tomfoolery on hilarious display in this free-wheeling 1985 flick about a road trip through West Texas.
It's 1971 and the Groovers have graduated from t.u. (University of Texas in Aggie speak). Before saying adios to their youth, these five friends head southwest in search of the vaunted "Don." Along for the ride are Gardner (Kevin Costner), Phil (Judd Nelson), Waggener (Sam Robards), Dorman (Chuck Bush) and Griffin (Brian Cesak).
That brief description doesn't even begin to crack the surface of what this film is about, but I don't want to spoil any surprises. And this flick has its fair share of them.
For a movie that takes its Texas time swaggering from one vignette to the next, Fandango is a model of efficient storytelling and character development. In the first ten minutes alone, one major character has broken off an engagement with a girl who may well be "the one," two more have revealed that they've been drafted into military service and will soon be shipped off to Vietnam, and another has shocked his straight-arrow parents when they show up at his frat house's graduation kegger. These events quickly establish the serio-comic tone and set the story into motion.
And what a story it is. I found myself laughing in surprise at where the movie took me, and I felt fully tuned in to its characters, thanks to its effective cast, especially Costner and Nelson.
Writer/director Kevin Reynolds taps into Costner's natural charisma in a way that no other director has been able to do outside of Ron Shelton. In fact, if you look closely at Gardner, it's not hard to see shades of "Crash" Davis and Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy. But the real surprise is the normally stiff Nelson. His insecure nebbish is the butt of most of the film's best jokes, and he soars through the funniest and most harrowing skydiving sequence I've ever seen.
Fandango is an early film from Reynolds, who would direct Costner again in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld. Unlike those later efforts, Reynolds finds all the right notes here and seldom missteps. His characters are flawed, funny and real, even when their predicaments are just this side of outrageous. In addition to the skydiving adventure, there's a memorable sequence involving a speeding train, a stalled car, and a long piece of sturdy rope. With mounting suspense, the film teases with endless possibilities of what could happen. What's memorable -- and hilarious -- about this sequence is not what happens, but what doesn't happen.
The film has tremendous respect for Lone Star culture. At one point, the characters put their quest for "Don" on hold to visit the set of Giant outside Marfa, only to find the sad, dilapidated framework that was Riata two decades before. Later, Texas hospitality is put on full display when a small town cheerfully tosses together an impromptu wedding and reception for a complete stranger.
Fandango calls to mind 1998's Dancer, Texas Pop. 81, another fine Texas-set film about several young men preparing to embark on adulthood. Both are set in dusty West Texas, and both involve people trying to postpone uncertain futures. If Dancer doesn't resonate the way Fandango does, it's because the shadow of the Vietnam war humanizes the people of Fandango by giving them a slight element of sadness.
Breezy and confident, and with a wing dinger of a soundtrack, Fandango is the definition of a sleeper. Before the final credits roll, its characters will have downed a few beers, faced fears, forged new friendships, tested old ones, and searched with some success for the answers to life's important questions. And, yes, one of them will even have danced the fandango under the Texas sky.
Fandango is presented in its original widescreen format, and receives an anamorphic transfer. For a 20-year-old, low-budget film, it looks mostly fine. I detected a bit of grain in the picture a couple of times, but it didn't detract from my enjoyment. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio also works well enough. The sole extra on the disc is the entertaining original theatrical trailer, which isn't in as good of shape as the film.
Fandango is one of the lost gems of '80s cinema. The DVD is sparse in terms of extras, but at least it gives audiences the chance to rediscover it or discover it for the first time. For a list price of around $15, you can't go wrong. Highly recommended.
Fandango is one cool drink of water. Case dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2005 Bryan Pope; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG