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American Flyers     

Posted by Katherine Putnam on February 19th, 2012

“Enough of this Sunday stroll.”

Part of me wants to blame the abysmal mess that is American Flyers on the fact that it came out in 1985. As someone who isn’t Jane Austen said, “it is a truth universally acknowledged that anything produced during the 80’s is therefore lacking in craft or taste.” While it would be easy to believe Miss Not-Austen, it isn’t true that everything from the 80’s was bogged down by spandex, shoulder pads, leg warmers, and insanely large hair. Some of my favorite movies came out in the 1980’s. Hello? A Fish Called Wanda, anyone? Tootsie? Die Hard? There are quite a plethora of examples to refute the 80’s product equals a bad product theory.

What does that mean? That means that American Flyers has no defense to hide behind. “The 80’s made me do it” won’t work as an excuse.

“You sounded half human.”
“I am half human.”

“Well I’ll be a Fig Newton.”

Before you ask, yes. “I’ll be a Fig Newton” was an actual line in the film. No, I have no idea why.

Now you have a slight inkling of what I endured.

In 1985, John Badham brought us a delightful film about two brothers (Kevin Costner and David Marshall Grant) who are able to reconnect through the exciting sport of cycling. I know. Hold on to your pants.

Look, I’ll come right out and say it: the plot is rather irrelevant. Costner and Grant had a falling out sometime after their father died of a cerebral aneurysm. Much family fighting has ensued (which we see during the drawn out, poorly paced opening act of the film) and both brothers are plagued with the fear that they too may be struck down by the same malady that killed their father. In true inspirational-movie fashion, the brothers decide to compete in “The Hell of the West” which is, you guessed it, a cycling competition. Much hi-jinks ensue as they “train” and have shenanigans with their “significant others” (for Costner this is his long time girlfriend, for Grant this is a random hippie they pick up along the road). Both brothers manage to place during the qualifying round of the races (Costner does quite well while Grant barely manages to achieve the placement necessary to move on to the second round). After giving his brother a strategy to pull ahead of the pack in the second race, Costner suffers an aneurysm and must leave the race. More family fighting ensues but Grant comes to terms with his racing destiny in time to defy the odds and win the whole shebang by coming in first in the third and final race.

Okay, I called the plot irrelevant because it is. It’s one part inspirational-movie and one part crazy-road-trip. It’s a little hard to pick on the inspirational-movie part because, well, it’s supposed to be inspiring. (Conversely, it’s very easy to pick on the crazy-road-trip aspect.) However, I do not subscribe to the “so long as it means well it doesn’t matter if it’s done well” philosophy of story-telling. Story-telling is an art form, a craft, and I think it’s time that mediocre films like American Flyers stopped getting made.

Yes, I’m harsh.

In the spirit of honesty, I’ll admit that I was practically pre-determined not to like American Flyers.

  • I don’t like sports movies. (Although I’ll admit there have been a few exceptions. Side note? The over-produced, “let’s not focus on doing a good job, let’s focus on making people cry,” based-on-a-true-story The Blind Side was definitely not one of the exceptions. If I could only get those hours of my life back…)
  • I am not a fan of Kevin Costner. I don’t see the appeal and I’ve yet to see any talent.
  • The opening sequence done did me in. Grant cycling merrily along in shorty shorts and a cowboy hat? The “oh shucks” splashed by puddle water thanks to a passing car moment? The fact that he stays on his bike and continues to ride it once he’s inside his apartment? Why? Why??? WHY???
  • Just…there are more, but let’s move on with the review, shall we?
    All right, so American Flyers had several counts against it before it had even passed the five minute mark. But let’s put aside the bad power ballads (though I hope the producers compensated Creedance Clearwater Revival for dragging one of their hits into this mess of a movie), bad fashion, Costner, sports, and all those other strikes for a moment and focus on the biggest mistake of the movie (yes, aside from the time period, the casting, and the premise): the writing.

    I’ve said before that my first focus in a movie will be the writing. The acting pulls a close second, but the writing usually catches my admiration or ire before anything else (music, costumes, cinematography, sound editing, etc). The writing for this movie was absolutely abysmal. (I’m liking the word abysmal today, apparently.) If it wasn’t the dialogue it was the character motivation, if it wasn’t the character motivation it was the pacing of the story, if it wasn’t the pacing…oh, you get the point. It was bad. I mean, when Grant’s character actually references Costner’s mustache as a reason that Costner couldn’t possibly fall victim to a brain aneurysm…who wrote that? How did that line even make it into this movie? How did no one say, “Hey, you know what? That’s a really stupid line. Let’s change it.”

    I’m not even going to touch the Grant/Random Hippie Chick story-line with a ten foot pole.

    To sum up what is rapidly becoming a rant instead of a review: American Flyers is a sorry excuse for a movie. There’s very little tension regarding the plot because the victory is so predetermined by the story archetype this film represents that it makes the story rather meaningless. The plot is cliched. The dialogue is absurd. Far too much time is spent trying to force shenanigans sequences and it throws off the pacing of the movie. I haven’t even mentioned the villain yet (yes, there was a human villain, not just a your-brain-might-randomly-kill-you-at-any-moment villain) because he was almost more absurd than the dialogue. Almost, but not quite. Nothing is that absurd.

    So, in conclusion, American Flyers will soon join American Dreamz in the reject pile. Soon, but not quite. We want to see if there’s a RiffTrax for it before we pitch it. There probably is; this film is just ripe for riffing.

    For now I’ll leave you with a few more of the “I can’t believe this is happening” moments from the film:

  • We’re supposed to believe that Costner and Grant were able to outrace horses. I’m not saying they just cut the scene in such a way so as to trick us into thinking the cyclists pulled ahead of galloping horses. Oh no. We’re supposed to believe they won despite the fact that you can clearly see the cowboys reining the horses back so drastically that the horses are almost at a stop as the cyclists pass.
  • Grant and Random Hippie have a special song that marks all their romantic (re: sexual) encounters. That song is the Star Spangled Banner.
  • The screenplay was written by an Academy Award Winner. I’ve had plenty of reasons to question the Academy before this (c’mon, Costner has Oscars…how does that happen?) but now I’m really curious about their criteria. Or maybe the writer peaked early and this was written during a descent into madness. Maybe he inhaled too much Aqua Net. I don’t know.
  • The aforementioned mustache. Seriously. It looks like something died on Costner’s face. Just one more reason why mustaches on their own, unaccompanied by beards, are a bad idea.

    NEXT TIME: My hopes are high for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

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