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After the dust has settled, it's hard to believe that Steven Spielberg chose to distance himself from Fandango (1985) by taking his name off a picture his Amblin company produced. Not only did the film jump-start the careers of stars Kevin Costner, Judd Nelson, Sam Robards, and director Kevin Reynolds, but over the past two decades it's become a cult favorite for fans of road movies, collegiate dramas, and stories about just plain getting lost. Reynolds' debut came thanks to none other than Spielberg, who saw a student film by the young USC student and asked him to expand it to feature-length project. Fandango drew upon Reynolds' formative years in Texas, creating a fanciful journey from events both real and imagined. Costner stars as Gardner Barnes, the de facto leader of "The Groovers," a group of five University of Texas college students who find themselves on the brink of graduation in 1971. Kenneth Waggener (Robards) is due to marry just days after his graduation ceremony, but he shows up sober to the Groovers' graduation blowout, where — draft notice in hand — he announces that he's called off his wedding. Fellow Groover and ROTC officer Phil Hicks (Nelson) tells Waggener he's done the right thing, but it's Gardner — also ordered for induction — who insists they pile into Phil's car (with co-stars Chuck Bush and Brian Cesak) and head for the Mexican border. Somewhere, out by the Rio Grande, a friend of theirs needs digging up. What happens in the few days between Austin and spitting distance of Mexico is Fandango, a loose, episodic movie full of transitions and tone-shifts — so many, in fact, that it would trip over its own grab-bag of sentiments were it not for Reynolds' likable young cast, all virtually unknown at the time. Kevin Costner would collaborate with Reynolds on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld (the latter of which concluded their professional relationship), but in this early feature Costner's movie-star charisma is undeniable, playing up the cocky Gardner Barnes with a bravado that's almost too desperate, masking the very real disappointments he's felt during his all-too-short adolescence. At times Judd Nelson plays straight-arrow Phil a bit too straight, a bit too smarmy, but he's nonetheless an effective foil for both Costner and Sam Robards as Waggener. Rounding out the Freudian trio, Robards is the one who best approaches some semblance of self-awareness, and, by the time the film arrives at its unexpected final act, he turns out to be the journey's greatest beneficiary. But even if one "final fling" can't keep the Groovers together forever, it's clear that these few days will mean something forever — we can only guess if Gardner will escape into Mexico or if Waggener or Phil will die in a distant war. Those things somehow matter less than the privileges of youth. In one of the film's most subtle moments, Gardner loses his temper with Phil and launches into the shortest speech of his life — "You know, someday, when you're old…" — before stalking off in frustration. We're invited to say what's left unsaid, and if you find yourself picking up where Gardner left off, then Fandango probably means something to you as well. Warner's DVD release features a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a reasonable source-print and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. No extras, keep-case.

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