American Flyers

American Flyers (1985)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Kevin Costner, Alexandra Paul, Rae Dawn Chong

Have you ever noticed that if Kevin Costner has a moustache in a film, that the film tends to do comparably poorly?
I want to get a grant in order to study this. The obvious example of this is "Wyatt Earp." But, there’s another Costner film where he’s "sportin’ a ’stache" which is not listed among his classic films.
The movie is "American Flyers" and it was recently released on DVD by Warner Home Video. So, let’s take a closer look at this 1985 movie that is placed before the backdrop of a world-class-cycling competition.

"American Flyers" focuses on the Sommers brothers, Marcus (Kevin Costner) and David (David Grant). The brothers grew up sharing a love for bikes and bike racing. After their father died from a cerebral aneurysm, Marcus left their St. Louis home and moved to Wisconsin to actively pursue a career in sports medicine, leaving David and their mother alone. Six months later, Marcus returns home and invites David to join him in a bike race through the Rockies called, "The Hell of the West." David agrees, and they are joined by Marcus’ girlfriend Sarah (Rae Dawn Chong) and a plucky hitchhiker played by Alexandra Paul.

As the drama and tension of the grueling race mounts, it begins to become obvious that one of the brothers has inherited the medical condition that killed their father. While going through the training and the racing together, each of them begins to fear the ailment might strike. Will they be able to live long enough to finish the race?

"American Flyers" was written by Steve Tesich, who already had some experience in the filed, as he had already scripted another bike racing movie earlier, called "Breaking Away." "American Flyers" was directed by journeyman director John Badham of "Saturday Night Fever", "WarGames", and "Nick of Time" fame, and while the bike racing angle is unique to an extent, "American Flyers" still gets bogged down in the same old sports movie clichés — the underdog fighting to win, the overpowering villain, the devoted fans, etc.

However, "American Flyers" does offer characters with some unique qualities and the cast all deliver fine performances, most notably the young Costner (despite the moustache). Besides the early performance by Costner, "American Flyers" also features cameos by Jennifer Grey (pre "Dirty Dancing") and Robert Townsend. The film offers some spectacular photography of the Rocky Mountains during the racing sequences. The biggest deficit in the film is the score, which the typical mid 80s synth music. I was making up my own "Flashdance" lyrics to go with it!

The Warner Home Video DVD of "American Flyers" presents the film in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> that is <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1, and on the flip side of the disc you can also find a heavily cropped <$PS,pan and scan> version of the movie. While the framing of the <$PS,widescreen> version appears to be accurate, the picture itself exhibits quite some problems. The movie has a washed-out quality throughout and things appear overly hazy in some shots. Adding to the appearance is the fact that the print exhibits quite some grain, which is even more visible in the blown-up <$PS,pan and scan> version. While the source print is mostly free of major defects, at times the overall quality of the image looks no better than the average VHS copy. During the racing segments, there is a noticeable inconsistency in the image quality, and as a result some shots appear clearer than others – there aren’t too many of these however. The compression of this DVD is generally good without introducing distracting artifacts of sorts.

The audio on "American Flyers" is presented as a 2-channel <$DS,Dolby Surround>. It offers a nice dynamic range with a good frequency response, giving the track a rather natural sound. Surprisingly for its age, the film also contains good deal of surround sound action during the race sequences. The audio is well-balanced, with the dialogue always audible. There are no extra features on the DVD. It was a bit of a disappointment, as I would have liked to see some production notes, that would at least let you know whether "The Hell of the West" is a real race or just a fictional event made up for this movie. (Anybody?)

"American Flyers" turns out to be a mixed bag on this DVD. Without extras and with the rather limited appeal of the image quality on the disc, it remains a dubious film. Given its limited-interest subject matter, it has already become a niche movie and the DVD does not exactly invite viewers to give this disc a check-up. However for people familiar with the film, or for fans of the cycling sport, this is a release you should at least give look.